Child support is the legal obligation of monetary payments made by the parents for the child until they reach the age of maturity. It is mandated by law; therefore, failing to make the required child support payments can result in severe legal consequences such as fines and even imprisonment in some cases. 

What Statute of Limitations Apply for Child Support? 

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act was established in 1996 and has been changed several times since then. Some versions of it have been adopted by each state. Typically, if there is a child support case involving two or more states, the original version of the Act stated that the statute of limitations that applies is the longer of the two states involved in the case.

The state laws regarding the statute of limitations differ from one state to the next. For example, some states provide a distinct set of requirements concerning the collection of arrearages in child support, while others treat this debt in the same way as any other debt. Some states determine how long the statute applies by looking at. However, some states require the custodial parent to get a judgment that is in addition to the original child support order. This judgment can be applicable for ten years in many states. 

For instance, a state law in Arkansas only allows the custodial parents to collect on child support arrears for five years after the child reaches age 18 if there is not a separate order. Therefore, time limitations for seeking child support range widely across the states. However, in general if a judgment is made, the order is good for ten years and can be modified after that.

But other states may not have a statute of limitation at all, such as California. Child support orders remain outstanding and payable until all of the back payments have been collected. Some states allow parents to obtain a judgment on child support and then renew the judgment after ten years. This allows for an extension in the debt obligation for the amount in arrears. 

Some states mandate fees and interest of more than ten percent on amounts of child support arrearages. The payments for arrearages are still required even if the custody order is modified or the child lives with the paying parent because this is a debt obligation for the time when the child lived with the custodial parent. Usually, the child support laws are state-specific and can differ by each jurisdiction. It is important for you to do your own research and consult an experienced attorney to understand the nuances in the law. 

As mentioned above, there are time limitations and if you are not able to apply when needed it may hinder your ability to properly care for your child. Therefore, it is crucial for you to look up your local jurisdiction timelines for child support orders. 

How are Child Support Orders Enforced? 

Each state has a department or agency that guides them on how to deal with the child support enforcement services for its residents, usually through local branches at the county level. In almost every state, a parent seeking enforcement or collection services for unpaid child support cannot receive assistance from these agencies unless there is a child support order in place. 

For example, suppose an unmarried mother is receiving child support from the father periodically for her child on an informal basis, with no child support order in place and the father abruptly stops making those support payments. The mother will be required to go to court to have a child support order in place before her state’s child support enforcement agency can provide any information regarding the father’s location, collection, or enforcement services.

However, not all parents may need to go to court to seek child support orders. They can request a county or local branch of the state child support services/enforcement agency to represent them before the court, on the parent’s behalf, and request that a child support order be put in place. The agency will then be able to provide services to the parent seeking child support.

What is the Purpose and Function of Child Support Orders? 

Once a child support order is entered as a judgment by the court, the order becomes an enforceable legal document which, among other things:

  • Identifies the parties to the order (who pays support; who receives support);
  • Establishes the amount of child support to be paid (including frequency of payment);
  • Sets the procedure for payment ( paycheck deductions, direct payment, or other options);
  • Authorizes penalties for violation (wages, garnishment, imposition of fines) and;
  • Enforcement of Child Support Court Orders. 

If a parent fails to meet his or her support payment obligations, enforcement of a child support order can occur in several ways. In some states, the order itself will state that the parent’s wages will be withheld if support payments are not made as ordered. Some additional actions that may happen include seizure of property, interception of tax refunds, and the court’s holding the non-paying parent “in contempt” of the support order. 

For the purposes of these cases, the meaning of finding “contempt” is a legal ruling that the court’s instructions as to child support were violated, and punishment can include jail time in some cases. Keep in mind that in most states an actual child support order must be in place before any collection action can be initiated. As mentioned above, once a child support order is issued, the state’s child support services  agency can provide parent location, support collection, or support enforcement services as required.

How Do You Request Changes to Child Support Orders?

Child support can be made through a showing of a change in circumstances, such as an increase in the payer’s income, a decrease in the custodial parent’s income, an increase in the child’s needs, or an increase of the cost of living. Similarly, the amount can be reduced if circumstances justify the reduction for the child support order. 

Generally, you can file a request for modification through the court and allow for the judge to receive your case. The judge will look at various factors to determine if you may qualify for a changed circumstances situation and grant the requested modification. 

When Do I Need to Contact a Family Lawyer? 

If you receive child support payments or are trying to seek them. Keep in mind that there may be a timeline for applying for them and receiving them. Depending on which state you reside in, your local jurisdiction may determine the time limits and statute of limitations for your state. Therefore, it is important and in your best interest to consult with an experienced child support lawyers that can advise you on the different deadlines and how to timely file your claims. 

In general being aware of your local jurisdiction and how to file for this will be useful for these matters. Especially since child support laws have been created to ensure the best interests of the child, it is essential to seek guidance on how to accommodate your financial situation. In the end, child support payments are a legal obligation that is required by law for the parents to fulfill.