Child Support Arrears

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 What is Child Support Arrears?

According to the definition in the glossary of child support compiled by the state of Arizona, child support arrears refers to the total unpaid support obligation owed by a person under a court order to pay support. A court-ordered arrears is the total amount past due and owing under a court order. Keep in mind that there is a distinction between state and court-ordered child support orders.

For instance, state-assigned arrears refer to the total amount of support past due and owing under a court order assigned to the state. They are generally temporarily assigned, permanently assigned, and unassigned in current and past public assistance cases and never assigned arrears in current non-public assistance cases. Arrears judgment court-ordered payments refer to the past due and owing for a specific time that has been reduced to a written money judgment.

When is Child Support Ordered?

Depending on your state, child support can be ordered for several reasons. For instance, in Minnesota, if a married couple with minor children is divorced or has a legal separation, a court must enter a support order against one or both parents. If a married couple with minor children lives apart, one parent or the public authority may ask the court to seek a support order against the other parent. If a child is born to parents who are not married to each other, paternity must be established first before a court can order a child support order.

Paternity can be established by court order or by the parents voluntarily executing a document known as the Recognition of Parentage; check your local state for similar forms. In most cases where paternity is not contested, establishing paternity is usually simple. However, if paternity is contested or involves multiple parties, establishing paternity can be challenging.

For example, some courts may order an alleged father to pay temporary child support if genetic tests indicate a likelihood of paternity of 92 percent or greater. Furthermore, if a child is in the custody of an entity or an individual other than a parent, either by court order or parental consent, a support order can be granted against the parents in favor of the individual or entity who possesses custody.

How to Enforce a Child Support Order?

There are several methods that states adhere to when legally enforcing child support orders. Each state has its guidelines regarding enforcement. The following showcase some of these methods used by the governmental and private agencies collecting child support:

  • Income Withholding: Federal and State laws provide improved enforcement remedies, including mandatory income withholding and expedited processes for establishing and enforcing child support orders. This taps the non-custodial parent’s income at the source and becomes a regularly deducted item, and withholding has proven to be a very effective tool for enforcing child support obligations;
  • An Order or Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support: is served on the non-custodial parent’s employer. The employer must begin deducting child support payments from their employee’s wages or benefits and send the amount to the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA). The CSEA deals directly with the particular states to withhold child support from unemployment benefits that a non-custodial parent qualifies to receive;
  • Federal Tax Intercept: When Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or foster care arrears reaches $150, federal income tax refunds can be intercepted and used to repay the back child support. Similarly, when arrears in a non-TANF/Medicaid case reach $500, these tax refunds can be obstructed;
  • State Tax Intercept: Child Support Services Division (CSSD) will send case information, including the arrears amount, to the DC Tax and Resolution Office to intercept state income tax refunds in the amount of the arrears and;
  • Credit Bureau Reporting: When the arrears amount is at least $1,000, CSSD will send a letter to the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent has thirty (30) days to respond before CSSD will send information about the arrears amount to the Credit Bureau Agencies. When the non-custodial parent has paid the arrears, but the amount is still being reported on their credit report, the non-custodial parent may contact CSSD for assistance.

On a side note, the payment and time thresholds may vary among the states. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, it is important to look specifically at your local state website on Child Support Enforcement mechanisms.

What are the Basics of Child Support Guidelines?

Child support orders are legal obligations to provide financial support for a child(ren) and are established by the court of law. For instance, all child support obligations in Indiana are governed by the Indiana Child Support Rules and Guidelines issued by the Indiana Supreme Court. The guidelines adhere to a methodology designed to calculate child support as the share of each parent’s income is estimated to have been spent on the child if the parents and child were residing in an intact household.

For the non-custodial parent, the calculated amount determines the amount of child support to be paid to the custodial party for the benefit of the child(ren). The amount calculated for the custodial party is assumed to be spent directly on the child(ren). The guidelines specify special considerations for extraordinary education expenses and visitation.

When a child reaches 18 or 19 years old (states vary on this), the child is emancipated by the operation of law, and the non-custodial parent’s obligation to pay current child support terminates. But, an exception is if the child is considered incapacitated. In these circumstances, child support continues during the incapacity or until further order of the court. A court order for the child support to extend beyond the mature ages is required.

The court shall emancipate a child before the age of 18 or 19 if the court discovers that the child:

  • Marries;
  • Enrolls in active duty status with the US Military and;
  • The child is not under the care or control of either parent, an individual, or an agency approved by the court.

Furthermore, the court may eliminate a non-custodial parent’s support obligation, with or without emancipating the child, if the court declares that all of the following circumstances exist:

  • The child is at least 18 years old;
  • The child has not attended a secondary school or post-secondary educational institution for the prior 4 months;
  • Is not enrolled in a secondary school or post-secondary educational institution and;
  • The child is or is capable of supporting themself through employment.

Lastly, a petition must be filed with the court for a court to terminate a child support order before 19. If a non-custodial parent owes any arrearage at the point when the order for child support terminates, they are still obligated to pay the arrearages. If a child support order covers two or more children and one child is emancipated, the amount of child support will not automatically be reduced. The parties must request a court order modification to determine the new amount of support for the remaining child(ren).

When Do I Need to Contact A Lawyer?

If you have a child support obligation to pay, you must promptly keep up with the payments. There are serious legal consequences for missing the payments. If you are struggling to make payments, it is suggested to seek out a local child support attorney to assess your situation and provide you with the assistance you need.

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