Child support payments are payments one spouse pays to the other to support their child. Courts can order child support when parents get divorced. When parents get divorced, the parent with whom the child resides after the divorce is called the custodial parent. The parent who does not live with the child is called the non-custodial parent. 

Courts often order child support payments to be made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. Missed child support payments are known as back child support payments.

How are Back Child Support Payments Collected?

Child support payments are legal obligations imposed by a court. A parent violates an order of a court when the parent misses one or more payments. Parents who are owed back child support payments have a right to these payments.

A parent who is owed back child support because the other parent has refused to pay the support may ask a court to garnish the other parent’s wages. The court can then order the other parent’s employer to deduct wages so the wages can be used to pay back support. Employers  must comply with these orders.

If the parent against whom the garnishment order is issued either loses their job, or the amount of the garnishment is insufficient to cover the back support owed, the parent owed the back support can use other legal remedies to get it. The parent owed support may have a lien placed on the other parent’s property. A lien is a legal claim placed against real property (such as a house) or personal property (such as stocks, bonds, jewelry, and furniture). This gives the person who places the lien, called the lienholder, a security interest in that property. The parent owed support is then entitled to the proceeds from the other parent’s sale of the property.

Can State Child Support Agencies Collect Overdue Child Support Payments?

Many states give child support enforcement agencies the power to collect payments that are overdue. The agency can act without the parent who is owed the money having to get a court order.

However, the agency cannot act without informing the delinquent parent. Under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, states may not deprive individuals of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Due process of law requires the state to give notice to the parent who owes child support, that the state intends to use the collection power.  

The notice explains the collection procedure. The notice also gives the delinquent parent the right to challenge the measure the state wants to use to collect the payment. The notice also informs the noncustodial parent of the date by which they must challenge the measure, and explains that if the parent fails to make the back payments, the state will take action to collect those payments.

These measures to collect back child support include:

  • Unemployment Insurance Benefits (UIB) Intercept. Under UIB intercept, overdue child support payments are deducted from the weekly unemployment insurance benefit payments of parents who owe back child support;
  • Taking of State and Federal Refunds of Income Tax.  Noncustodial parents who owe back child support may have overdue child support payments deducted from their federal or state (or both) income tax refunds;
  • Credit Bureau Submission. Child support payments are debts. The parent owing these payments is a debtor, and the parent who is owed child support is a creditor. A parent who owes back child support is said to be “delinquent” in payment. Parents who are delinquent may have their names given to the three major agencies for consumer credit reporting (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). Being listed as a debtor on a consumer credit report can lower a person’s credit score. This means lenders may decide not to give a loan or extend credit to a delinquent parent until the debt (the past due child support) is paid; 
  • License Suspension. Some states suspend driver’s licenses as well as professional licenses (e.g., pilot licenses, medical licenses, law licenses) until the back child support is paid; and
  • Taking of Lottery Winnings. Some states that run lotteries take a portion of a noncustodial parent’s lottery winnings, so that the money can pay for overdue child support.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Back Child Support Payments?

If you owe or owed back child support payments, you should contact a child support lawyer. An experienced child support lawyer near you can explain what measures can be taken to ensure the support is paid. 

A child support lawyer can explain any questions you have about how collection procedures work. This lawyer can also inform you of your rights and can represent you in proceedings in court, or before a child support enforcement agency.