When two parents no longer live together, the parent without custody of the child (the noncustodial parent) gives the other parent money called child support. This money pays for the child’s basic life necessities. Basic necessities include food, clothing, and shelter. 

Parents may agree on the amount the noncustodial parent will give the other parent. That agreement becomes part of a child support order signed by a judge. When parents cannot agree, the judge decides (in an order) the amount to be paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent. 

A parent who fails to pay child support is violating the court order. The other parent has several methods they can use to recover (receive) the child support.

How Can A Parent Recover Child Support?

A parent can recover child support that is owed (called “back child support”) by requesting an order requiring the other parent to pay the support. The custodial parent may also obtain the back support through the assistance of a child support enforcement agency. A child support enforcement agency is a state government entity that works with parents and courts to help parents obtain back child support. 

If the noncustodial parent owes back child support to the custodial parent, the custodial parent may go to family court, and file a request for back child support. The judge reviews the request. If the judge finds the request appropriate, the judge issues a child support order. The noncustodial parent must then comply with the terms of the order. The noncustodial parent will be held in contempt of court if they do not comply with the order. Contempt subjects that parent to fines and in some cases jail time. 

A court may send a wage garnishment order to the noncustodial parent’s employer if the parent does not obey the child support order. A wage garnishment order directs the employer to withhold a certain amount of the parent’s wages. The order directs the employer to send those wages to the custodial parent. 

The custodial parent may seek the assistance of a child support enforcement agency to obtain past-due support. Child support agencies work with parents to who support is owed, to ensure the support is paid. Child support agencies are staffed by professionals experienced in recovering support from delinquent individuals. 

What if the Noncustodial Parent Resides in Another State?

Frequently, a noncustodial parent may move to a state that is different from the one in which the custodial parent resides. In the past, some noncustodial parents did this to evade child support payment obligations. The other parent was unable to obtain owed child support money.

To prevent this from happening, Congress passed a federal law known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). This law permits enforcement of an interstate child support order. An interstate child support order is an order requiring a noncustodial parent residing in one state, to make payments to a custodial parent who resides in another state. Under this law, states have procedures that can be used to enforce a child support obligation owed by a parent residing in another state. 

These procedures include:

  • Procedures for wage garnishment, without the necessity of a court or administrative order or hearing;
  • Procedures for establishing child support obligations; or
  • Procedures for modifying child support obligations.

To enforce an order using this law, the parent who owes the support must be located. In addition, that parent’s paternity must be established using genetic testing. A court order is required for testing. In addition, under the PRWORA, a child support agency may also seek and obtain the results of a paternity test.

Federal law requires that the state in which the noncustodial parent resides, enforce the order issued by the state in which the custodial parent resides. States must support child support orders issued by other states, as long as:

  • The child has resided for at least six months in the state in which the parent who seeks child support resides; and
  • The order of child support must be a judgment, decree, or an order of a court, that requires payment.

Federal law also requires that before the order can be enforced against the parent who owes the support, the parent be given notice of the enforcement. This provides the parent an opportunity to object to the enforcement, if appropriate. A court hears these objections and determine if they are valid.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Child Support Recovery?

If you are owed back child support, you should contact a child support attorney. An experienced child support attorney near you can advise you as to what methods of recovery are available. The attorney will explain these methods to you, and can also represent you in court. If you have any specific questions regarding the child support laws in your area, your attorney can address those as well.