How to Request Back Payments for Child Support

Back payments are not to be confused with retroactive support

Family with young girl (8-9) standing against wall with blank speech bubbles
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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.

The Office of Child Support Enforcement, as well as federal and state governments, have put measures in place to help you collect child support payments and prevent defaults. However, if those measures don't work, then you can contact your local child support office and, if needed, your attorney, to help you further with the collection of back payment.

Know the Proactive Measures for Collecting Child Support

According to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, the government has required all child support orders to include a provision to withhold payments since 1994. That means child support payments are be 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, workers 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.

If your child support order doesn't include this automatic withholding provision, you can request it through your local child support office or attorney.

This provision was put in place by Congress to help prevent missed payments. However, it still happens due to a number of circumstances, and some parents are able but unwilling to pay. If this is your experience, then there are a couple of steps you can take to address the problem.

Retroactive Child Support vs. Back 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 needs of the child between the time when the couple files for divorce and the point at which a judge actually mandates child support payments. The claim for retroactive support must be supported by a list of expenses on behalf of the child.

Check With Your Local Child Support Office

The first thing you can do if your child's 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.

If the noncustodial parent owes more than $2,500 in unpaid child support, then the Office of Child Enforcement turns their information over to the U.S. Department of State to take additional measures, which can include:

  • Denial of a passport or passport renewal
  • Tax offset
  • Garnishment of wages
  • Liens against vehicles or real estate
  • Asset seizures

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.

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. There are many attorneys that 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 not successful. 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 even conflicting decisions.