Child support is a court-ordered payment made by one parent to the other for the benefit of their child or children. The specific child support laws in each state will determine the amount of support based on the best interests of the child or children in the case. The parent who does not have primary physical custody of the child, or who the child lives with less than half the time, is generally the parent who is ordered to make child support payments.

The purpose of child support is to provide for the child in situations in which they do not live with both parents. Because both parents are responsible for the financial support of their children, child support is necessary in order to ensure that both parents are fulfilling their financial obligations to their child or children.

Common examples of expenses that child support is to be used for include:

  • Food, shelter, and clothing for the child;
  • Medical care and health-related expenses for the child; and
  • Educational expenses for the child, such as paying tuition for private school.

Mandatory child support is how a court can ensure that non-custodial parents contribute to their children’s needs. The parent who is required to pay cannot escape their child support obligation, and the parent with physical custody of the children cannot refuse to accept the child support payments that the court has ordered for the child.

Either the mother or the father can be ordered to pay child support. Additionally, the parents do not have to have been married for a parent to be ordered to pay child support. In legal disputes associated with the child’s biological father, the court will generally order a paternity test before calculating and ordering child support.

Finally, it is important to note that adoptive parents are also subject to child support laws. However, absent an adoption order, step-parents are not obligated to pay child support to their step-children.

How Is The Amount Of Child Support Determined?

Each state will have its own guidelines that the state will use to calculate the specific amount of child support payments in each case. The local court will determine the child support amount based on the specific circumstances of the parents paying, along with the best interest standard. These state child support guidelines will generally give the court a range, and the judge will order an amount of money within that range.

Additionally, some states give judges considerable discretion when determining the final child support amount, while others require the court to follow considerably strict guidelines.

Examples of common factors that are considered when determining the child support amount include, but may not be limited to:

  • The specific needs of the child, such as their healthcare needs and medical expenses, education, childcare, and other special needs;
  • How many children the parent is responsible for supporting;
  • The custodial parent’s income compared to that of the non-custodial parent;
  • The ability of the non-custodial parent to pay; and
  • In the case of divorce, the court might also consider the child’s standard of living before the divorce or separation.

What Is Child Support Enforcement?

Once again, a court may order a non-custodial parent to make child support payments in cases of divorce or separation involving a child. In cases in which the non-custodial parent misses payments, either intentionally or unintentionally, due to unforeseen circumstances, a child support enforcement order may be sought by the custodial parent or state child support enforcement agency.

First, all child support payments are reported in some way to the child support agency for the state. As such, courts will keep track of the amount of any missed child support payments and may be called to order the party failing to make payments to make up the missed payments. Once again, enforcement actions are usually done with the assistance of child support enforcement agencies.

The child support enforcement agency’s job is to identify, locate, and contact persons with outstanding child support payments. Child support enforcement agencies may use a variety of different methods to attempt to collect child support on behalf of the custodial parent.

If the child support enforcement agency can work out a repayment plan with the parent that owes back child support, they will do so. However, if the parent cannot make payments or agree to a plan, further court action may be necessary.

What Are the Consequences of Not Paying Child Support?

Unpaid child support is considered a debt by the party obligated to pay the court-ordered support. As such, unpaid child support can appear on an individual’s credit report if they do not keep up with child support payments.

In most states, the child support enforcement agency for the state is required to report unpaid child support debts once they reach more than $1,000. However, enforcement agencies may exercise discretion and report lesser amounts to credit bureaus. Further, most states must notify the party obligated to make child support payments before reporting the unpaid debt to the credit bureaus. Then, that party will have a reasonable time to dispute the amount of the debt.

Child support debt that is reported to the credit bureaus can show up on an individual’s credit report differently. The debt may be classified as a “collection,” which is reported by child support enforcement agencies or when the custodial parent reports to a collection agency for help collecting the past-due support.

Unpaid child support can also appear on an individual’s credit report as a court judgment following a court proceeding initiated by either a child support enforcement agency or custodial parent that is to receive the child support payments. A court judgment might also result in further child enforcement measures, such as:

  • Wage garnishment;
  • A lien being placed on property; or
  • Confiscation of the non-custodial parent’s tax refund to satisfy the debt.

In addition to child support collection efforts, failure to pay court-ordered child support is also considered a violation of that court order. This means that the custodial parent may initiate child support enforcement proceedings and seek fees in addition to unpaid child support.

For example, the custodial parent that initiates private enforcement proceedings may seek to have the non-custodial parent pay for the attorney fees necessary to obtain the enforcement order.

In addition to civil penalties, a party failing to make timely child support payments may be held in contempt of court and face jail. The length of jail time will depend heavily on the circumstances of the specific case.

As such, if you are having trouble making payments, you should contact your local child support enforcement agency, so they can help you come up with a payment plan for making up missed payments. You could also ask for a court hearing to request a modification to the child support order. If the case circumstances have changed significantly since the last support order was first put in place, the court may modify the amount of child support to be paid.

Further, if you think the information regarding unpaid child support that was reported to the credit bureau is incorrect, you could contest that credit report. To contest information on your credit report, you must make the contest in writing by sending a credit dispute letter to the various credit bureaus.

How Are Child Support Enforcement Orders Obtained?

Child support enforcement is usually obtained by the custodial parent contacting their state or county’s local child support department. Then, the custodial parent will typically file a request with that agency to investigate whether or not there is any unpaid child support. Once the custodial parent shows that the non-custodial parent has failed in their child support obligation, the local child support enforcement agency will seek to contact with the non-custodial parent.

Once again, if the parent who owes child support cannot agree to a repayment plan or refuses to contact the child support enforcement agency, the child support enforcement agency may seek court intervention.

It is important to note that enforcement efforts by state agencies may be slow. As such, many parents that are owed back child support may seek to hire a private civil attorney to file a private enforcement action in the court to obtain a child support enforcement order.

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

As can be seen, child support enforcement can often be a complicated and lengthy process. If you are owed back due child support, you may wish to consult with an experienced child support lawyer. An experienced child support lawyer will be able to advise you as to your best courts of legal action regarding obtaining a child support enforcement order. Finally, an attorney can also represent you in court, as needed.