Every state mandates that both parents be responsible for supporting their children until they reach maturity. This implies that child support remains due until the child turns 18. However, many states allow child support orders to last further than the child’s 18th birthday.

The most common extension of this rule is to require the parent to pay child support until the child celebrates their 19th birthday or when they finish high school, whichever happens first. Another reason for an extension beyond the 18th birthday is if the child becomes disabled and is not able to be self-sufficient. Additionally, parents may agree or have a court order that requires child support to last longer.

But, there are also scenarios when the default age of majority does not determine how long the child support obligation lasts. For instance, child support is typically terminated if the child decides to marry, enroll in the armed forces, or become legally emancipated. The legal obligation to pay child support is generally created when paternity is established.

Paternity may be formed through a separate cause of action, as part of a divorce decree, by signing a state-issued acknowledgment form, or by operation of law. Keep in mind that some states block the establishment of child support if paternity is not established before the child turns 18.

What is the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act?

This Act was established in 1996 and has been changed several times since. Every state has adopted some version of it. If a child support case has two or more states, the original version of the Act stated that the statute of limitations that applies is the longer of the two states involved in the case.

The laws regarding the statute of limitations depend on each state. For example, some states provide a detailed set of requirements for collecting arrearages (child support debt). Some states treat this debt similarly to others. Some states determine how long the statute applies by determining when each child support payment was due, while others look at when the last payment was due.

For instance, if the back child support payment was due when a child was 10 years old and the statute holds that the statute is for ten years past the date of the last child support obligation, the parent will be responsible for the 10-year-old’s payment until the child is 28. Michigan and several other states follow that specific rule.

Other states, such as California, may not have a specific statute of limitation. In that case, child support remains payable until all back payments are collected. Some states permit parents to get a judgment on child support and then renew the judgment after ten years, extending the debt obligation for the amount in arrears.

How Do You Make Payments for Arrearages?

Some states have fees and interest of more than ten percent on amounts of child support arrearages. Payment for arrearages is still required even if the custody situation changes or the child resides with the paying parent because this is a debt obligation for the time when the child lived with the custodial parent.

Because child support laws are state-specific and can vary widely by jurisdiction, it is important for individuals involved in this issue to consult with an experienced family lawyer in child support.

If a non-custodial parent does not pay the court-ordered child support, the custodial parent can expect that federal and state laws require tough enforcement procedures. Those who are delinquent and owe back child support are referred to as “deadbeat parents,” a term often utilized in the titles of state laws meant to ensure the timely payment of child support.” Additionally, some states and counties shame deadbeat parents by posting their pictures, names, and delinquent amounts online.

What are the Federal Child Support Laws?

The Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 is a law that permits district attorneys and state attorneys generals to collect back child support on behalf of custodial parents. The Office of Child Support Enforcement heads this and other federal child support initiatives within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

A deadbeat parent’s failure to follow instructions from a district attorney or state authority could subject them to penalties, including jail time. However, the courts realize that a jailed parent is unlikely to be able to make regular payments, so it is reserved as a last resort. The aim is to encourage non-custodial parents to make the ordered amount of child support payments.

Generally, enforcement begins with the removal of certain privileges and other restrictions. For instance, a parent who owes more than $2,500 in support may be denied a passport until they pay their past due balance.

In adherence with the Act, state attorneys may take any of the following enforcement measures against a delinquent non-custodial parent:

  • Garnishment of wages;
  • Liens against property or real estate;
  • Reporting the debtor to credit bureaus;
  • Freezing bank accounts;
  • Suspension of professional or driver’s license (in some states);
  • Contempt order and;
  • Jail time.

In addition, the federal Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) determines matters of jurisdiction when more than one state is involved in a child support dispute. Specific components of the act are described below as:

  • States must defer to child support orders entered by courts in the child’s home state;
  • Continuing exclusive jurisdiction (CEJ) is granted to the place where the order was originally entered;
  • Only the law of the state with CEJ may be applied to modification requests.
  • A custodial parent may have an order mailed to an out-of-state court for assistance in enforcing the order and ;
  • A custodial parent may have an order mailed to the employer of the non-custodial parent (for wage garnishment).

What are the Enforcing Back Child Support Procedures?

The process of enforcing back child support orders is managed at the state level, but the procedures are usually similar among all states. You can refer to the State and Tribal Child Support Agency Contacts (DHHS) for specific information about your state or jurisdiction.

According to New York’s Division of Child Support Enforcement, a delinquent non-custodial parent in the state is mailed a notice explaining the child support process, including the necessary time frame for payment and specific instructions for how to comply.

Depending on the amount of child support owed or the length of time past-due amounts have been accruing, the state may take steps such as wage garnishment; interception of unemployment insurance; driver’s license suspension; or passport denial. If these administrative penalties fail to induce payment, probation or jail time can result too.

What If the Non-Custodial Parent Cannot Pay?

Back child support is one of those debts that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. But even though deadbeat parents face the possibility of jail time for nonpayment, no one will be jailed due to lack of means.

A non-custodial parent who cannot make full payments has to file a formal motion requesting modification of child support, showing their current financial situation. Failure to file a motion could result in a default judgment of delinquency.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

You may have options if you need assistance making child support payments. It is important to not fall behind on these payments and be engaged in ensuring to repay them actively. If you have any questions in your local jurisdiction, it may be helpful to seek out the state child support attorney who deals with child support issues.