Child support refers to the periodic support payment that a court orders when two parents are no longer living together, such as in a legal separation or divorce. The basic idea behind child support payments is that a parent has a legal responsibility to support their own biological child. 

As such, either parent can be ordered to pay child support if they are not the custodial parent. It is generally in the child’s best interests to receive financial support from both parents, so child support payments may be ordered in cases where a parent does not have contact with their child.

The purpose of child support is to help provide for the expensive costs of raising a child. The support payments are not intended to benefit either parent, but rather to benefit the child. Child support payments generally provide for:

  • Food, shelter, and clothing;
  • Health and medical care; and
  • Educational expenses, such as those associated with sending the child to a private school as opposed to a public school.

Child support payment amounts are determined by the court by taking into account the unique circumstances of each, individual case. Additionally, each state has its own guidelines regarding child support payment calculations. However, there are guidelines that specify which factors the court must consider regardless. These factors typically include:

  • The needs of the child, such as health insurance, education, daycare expenses, and any special needs that that specific child may have;
  • The income and the financial needs of the custodial parent;
  • The paying parent’s ability to pay; and
  • The child’s standard of living prior to the divorce or separation, if applicable.

The court will generally require each parent to complete a financial statement which details their monthly income and expenses. Based on these statements, as well as the amount of time each parent spends with the child, the court uses a standardized formula to calculate the exact amount of support to be paid monthly. In some states, visitation arrangements are also considered when determining the amount of child support.

What are Child Support Arrears?

The term child support arrears refers to an amount of unpaid child support that is owed to the custodial parent. This is frequently an issue when the noncustodial parent has moved away, and child support payment enforcement becomes an interstate issue. Interstate child support refers to a situation in which one parent needs to pay child support for a child who is not in the same state as them. 

This child support issue can be complex because there is the possibility of multiple orders from multiple states being enforceable at the same time. There are two specific types of arrears: assigned, and unassigned.

Assigned child support arrears refers to the unpaid child support payments that are given to the state. In such situations, the custodial parent is on public assistance and the missing child support payments serve to reimburse the state for financially supporting the child. An example of this would be if the non custodial parent owes several thousands of dollars in back child support. 

The non-custodial parent would then start making monthly payments including interest, paid to the state as repayment for the years the custodial parent was receiving public assistance to make up for the missing child support. The custodial parent would only receive payments from the arrears if there was money remaining once the state had been paid in full.

Unassigned child support arrears refers to back child support that goes directly to the custodial parent, if they have never received state or federal public assistance. They are entitled to all of the money the non custodial parent has not paid, although they may choose to waive their right to this money. Such a waiver is a court order that relieves the non custodial parent from making back child support payments. A waiver may be occur because:

  • The custodial parent is financially capable of caring for the child on their own;
  • The non custodial parent offers to pay a portion of the arrears in exchange for the custodial parent waiving the remaining portion of the arrears; or
  • The custodial parent and non custodial parents have reunited, are living together, and are sharing expenses.

How is Back Child Support Owed Before Going on Public Assistance Handled?

Back child support simply refers to missed child support payments to be made by the non custodial parent to the custodial parent. Thus, if the non-custodial parent was in arrears prior to the custodial parent receiving public assistance, that amount is given to the state as a temporary assignment. This is because the state utilizes the money as reimbursement for the custodial parent currently receiving public assistance.

Once the custodial parent stops receiving public assistance, the temporary arrears assignment becomes conditional. What this means is that the state only takes money from a conditional arrears assignment if the payment received is from an income tax refund. 

In specific child support cases, the law will allow a non custodial parent to pay less than the total child support, if the custodial parent is receiving public assistance. This is referred to as the compromise of arrears program.

Do I Need an Attorney to Obtain Child Support Arrears?

If you owe back child support, or if you are owed back child support, it is in your best interests to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable child support attorney. An experienced child support attorney can help you understand your state’s specific laws regarding arrears, as well as your specific child support orders. They can advise you on your best course of action, and represent you in court as needed.