It is emotionally and mentally taxing to go through a divorce or break-up. Add in having to figure out child support and custody because your ex is also your child’s other parent, and the situation can become overwhelming. Fortunately, the Delaware Health and Social Services’ (DHSS) Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) is available to make the processes of figuring out child support and enforcing a child support order more straightforward.

Who Needs to Pay Child Support?

In Delaware, children have a right to receive financial support from both parents until the age of 18 or high school graduation, whichever comes later. Typically, the noncustodial parent will have to pay child support to the custodial parent, thereby ensuring that both parents meet their financial obligation to the child. In the case of an unmarried parent with custody, they will have to prove the other parent’s legal relationship to the child, usually paternity, before they can obtain a court order for child support.  The DCSS can assist in proving paternity, if necessary. Courts will consider several other factors beyond custody in deciding both eligibility for child support and the amount that should be paid. For the latter, the court will often use the Delaware Child Support Formula, often referred to as the “Melson Formula,” to figure out a basic figure before considering other factors, such as how much time the child spends with each parent. The Melson Formula takes into consideration both parents’ incomes and the financial needs of the child.

How Can I Petition for Child Support?

To obtain child support in Delaware, one parent must first file a support petition in court to request a court order mandating the other parent to pay child support. Although you can always pursue child support on your own, you may also be able to reach out to the DCSS for assistance in this matter. The DCSS usually represents parents seeking support by filing actions and pursuing administrative remedies on their behalf.

Simply filing a support petition will not automatically result in a court order. The court will need to make a paternity determination after the petition is filed. Then, the parents must attend a mediation conference, and the mediator will try to determine the amount of child support to be ordered before the court issues an order for child support. Although you may think doing so would help, you do not need to attach additional documents to a petition for child support. Evidence such as pay stubs will be reviewed at a mediation or hearing, if needed.

What If I Refuse to Pay Child Support?

If you fail to pay child support in Delaware, the DCSS or the person entitled to receive support may file a petition for “arrears” to obtain overdue child support. Arrears refers to a debt that is past due because of the debtor’s failure to pay. Additionally, at a hearing on your failure to pay, the court may also add an additional amount to the existing debt as punishment. Alternative remedies may be ordered, too, including the suspension of a driving or professional license, and even potential incarceration. The most common remedy in Delaware is taking the payment directly from the other parent’s wages, once their current employer is identified, through a procedure referred to as wage garnishment.

What Recourse Can the Other Parent Have If I Do Not Pay Support?

Parents in Delaware can ask for state assistance in pursuing recourse if the other parent fails to pay child support. The DCSS provides a range of services to parents owed child support, including filing petitions in Family Court for enforcement of child support orders. Beyond helping parents reach out to the courts, the DCSS may even administratively interfere by intercepting tax refunds and prohibiting passport issuance if you do not pay for child support.

How Can I Stop Paying Child Support?

Child support payments do not terminate until all minor children turn 18 and graduate from high school. For children who are over 18 while still in high school, child support obligations terminate when the minor turns 19 or graduates high school, whichever occurs first. Additionally, child support obligations will end if custody changes and the obligated parent obtains custody. These are the three primary ways in which you can stop paying child support without first filing anything and obtaining a court order. Absent any of these circumstances, do not simply withhold child support. Instead, you should consult an attorney and try to seek court approval to not pay. Knowingly withholding support without the court’s approval can result in punitive consequences, including jail time.

Where Can I Find the Right Lawyer?

Obtaining child support can be a complicated but obviously very necessary process to ensure a child has their financial needs met. Additionally, understanding support obligations can be confusing, and failing to comply with a child support order has serious consequences. For these reasons, it is important to consult with a Delaware child support lawyer to discuss how to proceed and to help you navigate through any problems that arise.