The Office of Child Support Enforcement and federal and state governments have put measures in place to help parents collect child support payments and prevent defaults. However, if those measures don't work, you can contact your local child support office and, if needed, your attorney to help you with the collection of child support back payments.
Learn more about your options if you're owed back child support.
What Is Back Child Support?
If a noncustodial parent willingly falls behind on paying court-mandated child support, skips payments, or stops paying, the money is considered a debt, and, by law, they'll need to pay back child support payments.
Back payments for child support are not to be confused with retroactive payments. When filing for child support, a custodial parent may also request retroactive payments, which are made to support the child's needs between the time when the couple filed for divorce and the point at which a judge actually mandates child support payments. The claim for retroactive support may have to be supported by a list of expenses on behalf of the child.
How Is Child Support Collected?
According to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, the government has required most child support orders to include a provision to withhold payments since 1994. That means child support payments are automatically deducted from the noncustodial parent's paycheck as part of a court mandate.
Money can also be automatically withheld from commissions, bonuses, pension, retirement benefits, worker's compensation, disability benefits, or other forms of income for the noncustodial parent. There are some exceptions to this if both parents and the court agree on another form of payment.
This provision was put in place by Congress to help prevent missed payments. However, missed payments still happen due to a number of circumstances, and some parents are able but unwilling to pay. If this is your experience, you can take a couple of steps to address the problem.
If your child support order doesn't include this automatic withholding provision, you can request it through your local child support office or attorney.
How to Request Back Child Support
The first thing you can do if a noncustodial parent is behind on child support payments is check with your local child support office to find out if they're already taking action. It's likely that they are.
That's because state governments automatically conduct a quarterly Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM) in partnership with all of the financial institutions in the state to identify parents who are behind in child support payments. Once they identify delinquent accounts, state or local child support offices may issue liens or levies to collect the past-due payments.
Another option for collecting back child support is a tax offset, which is when state and federal child support agencies intercept federal tax refunds of noncustodial parents to cover child support back payments. Agencies can also:
- Garnish wages: This is when income is taken out of paychecks and other income like bonuses. Up to 60% of a worker's disposable earnings can be garnished for child support, plus another 5% for support payments that are more than 12 weeks behind.
- Put liens against vehicles or real estate: A lien prevents the property from being sold until the back child support is paid.
- License suspension: The child support agency may also suspend the driver's license or professional license of the parent who owes child support.
The federal government has also established a Federal Case Registry and National Directory of New Hires. All employers are required by law to report all new hires to be included in the directory so the government can track delinquent parents across state lines and begin withholding back child support from their wages.
If the noncustodial parent owes more than $2,500 in unpaid child support, the Office of Child Enforcement turns their information over to the U.S. Department of State, which can deny the noncustodial parent a passport until the child support is paid.
Consult a Lawyer
If you find that your local or state child support agency hasn't taken any action to collect your child support back payments, or if their actions are not successful, then it may be time to consult a lawyer. Many attorneys specialize in family law and child support.
Keep in mind that state and local child support agencies can take delinquent child support cases to court if their previous attempts to collect back payment are unsuccessful. If that happens with your case, and you've also hired your own lawyer, then it will be important to make sure you're coordinating your efforts with the agency to avoid duplication of work or conflicting decisions.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you find out how much child support is owed to you?
The best way to find out how much child support is owed to you is to contact your state or local child support agency. For example, in North Carolina, Child Support Services has an online eChild Support account that you can log into at any time. It tells you the amount of arrears (back payments) owed to you.
How long does it take to receive a child support payment from a tax offset?
It typically takes 30-45 days for a tax offset to be processed. If it's a federal tax offset, the state typically receives the offset within two or three weeks. If the offset was from a joint tax return, the state could hold the money for up to six months.
If someone owes back child support, what happens to their stimulus check?
The first stimulus payment, which was part of the CARES Act, didn't exempt the stimulus checks from back child support. In other words, the stimulus check could be intercepted and used to pay past-due child support. The second and third stimulus payments did exempt the checks from back child support, so they couldn't be seized.
How much back child support is a felony?
On a federal level, child support payments that are overdue for more than two years or amount to more than $10,000 are considered a felony. States have their own laws, however, and they vary significantly. For example, in Arkansas, it's a Class D felony if you attempt to leave the state to avoid payment, have $2,500 in past-due child support and four consecutive months of nonpayment, or you've previously been convicted of nonsupport. It becomes a Class C felony if more than $10,000 is owed.