Last Updated: December 13, 2022
For parents, knowing their child support rights includes understanding how to get their back child support paid. A court award of child support to one parent does not guarantee that the other parent will pay. When the balance begins to add up, action must be taken before the child is negatively affected. Divorce attorneys handle back child support cases and speaking with one can get you started down the right path with a free consultation to help you learn your rights.
Laws Affecting Back Child Support
The federal government, each of the 50 states, and the District of Columbia, all have mandatory child support enforcement agencies. Federal and state laws take tough stances with non-custodial parents who do not pay court-ordered child support. The term “deadbeat parents” is even included in the titles of some state laws regarding back child support, reinforcing the message that these individuals are not looked upon fondly. Though child support enforcement is handled by each state, the procedures are very similar among all states.
State Child Support Enforcement
State and district attorneys are authorized to act on behalf of custodial parents to collect back child support, per the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984. Technically, the state’s attorneys do not represent the parent that is owed the support, but they act in the best interests of the children on behalf of the state. Non-custodial parents that refuse to comply with child support orders are subject to penalties that include removal of certain privileges, such as: a passport, a drivers license, a business license, and even jail time. States attorneys do not hesitate to garnish wages, freeze bank accounts, and place liens on property to help get back child support paid.
In some cases, a child support case extends beyond state boundaries. The Federal Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) applies in multi-state disputes regarding past-due child support. A second state must defer to a court-mandated child support order entered in the home state of the child. In addition, only the law of the state where the order was entered will apply to requests for modification. The custodial parent may mail the order to a court or employer in another state for assistance with reinforcement.
Getting Back Child Support Paid
While the state ordinarily handles past due child support enforcement cases without a cost to the custodial parent, they are often slow and, in many instances, ineffective. Ordinarily, states attorney child support cases are all handled through a central office in a state. Then, each county has their own states attorneys that work in a specific county only when a file is transferred to them from the main office.
Take Cook County, Illinois for example. There are likely 30-40 states attorneys working in the child support division in a county like Cook County, Illinois (the busiest court system in the entire country). Cook County has millions of child support cases at any given time. The amount of in-depth examination a case gets is minuscule, if it even pops up on the radar in the states central office.
This is where hiring an attorney instead of using the state makes the most sense if a custodial parent wants to get their back child support paid sometime soon. Your case will be handled quickly and motions will be filed within weeks instead of months (or even up to a year). Divorce attorneys handle back child support cases all the time, many attorneys handle multiple dozens of them every single year.
Get Back Child Support Paid – Enforcement
Enforcing payment of back child support payments that are owed is a process that isn’t overly complicated (or so it seems). Different states call the motion to enforce something slightly different but it is usually called a “Petition for Rule to Show Cause” or “Motion for a Show Cause” hearing. It’s a weird sounding name, right? This motion is meant to hold the non-paying parent in indirect civil contempt of court – which is a very serious issue.
Below is what it means and what must be proven to win and get your back child support paid through a contempt motion (rule to show cause):
- An Order for child support was entered by the court;
- The Order was not complied with (payment wasn’t made);
- The non-paying parent has no reasonable excuse why he/she didn’t pay;
- The non-paying parent should be held in contempt of court and ordered to comply with the court order.
When a non-paying parent is held in contempt of court, the court will force that parent to comply with the court order, usually by initially ordering a “purge”. A purge is a way for the non-paying parent to ‘purge themselves of contempt of court’, usually by making some type of lump sum payment of all or a chunk of the back child support that is owed.
If the non-paying parent does not complete his/her purge, the court can order that they have their driving privileges suspended, suspend their business license, professional license (ie. Nurse, contractor, CDL, etc.), and even put them in jail until they pay. Contempt has serious penalties. The judge will also order, if a person is held in contempt of court, to pay for a part of or all of the attorneys’ fees the innocent parent incurred by having to enforce the child support order.
Bankruptcy Does Not Erase Back Child Support
If a non-custodial parent is in financial distress, even bankruptcy will not discharge back child support. This individual must formally request a child support modification and prove necessity by revealing the financial situation. If this motion is not filed, the court may issue a default judgment of child support delinquency or back child support will continue to add up (and interest accrues on the past-due child support amount as well)!
A custodial parent who is having trouble collecting past-due support payments should consult with a divorce lawyer for a free consultation right here. State and federal child support laws can be difficult to decipher, and they are often quite confusing (both the law and the unwritten process). Child support is meant to take care of children – put a roof over their heads and food on the table. When a parent doesn’t pay, they are hurting children. Don’t wait until something bad happens, act now, getting back child support paid is the right thing to do for your family.