Collecting Back Payments

What the Child Support Recovery Act Does

The Child Support Recovery Act makes it a Federal misdemeanor offense for a person to willfully fail to pay a past due financial support obligation (arrearage). An amendment to the (CSRA) also established felony violations for a parent traveling in interstate or foreign commerce to evade a financial child support obligation or for failing to pay a child support obligation which is greater than $2,500 or has remained unpaid for a period longer than two years.

How a Court Established "Willfullness"

Of course, in order to establish willfulness, the United States Attorney's Office must prove that the non-custodial parent knew about the obligation, was financially able to meet it at the time it was due, and intentionally did not pay it.  As is obvious by the law, failure to pay child support is of serious concern to everyone from custodial parents and judges to the FBI, U.S. Department of State and Congress.

CSE is Not Doing Nothing

First, if back child support is owed, do NOT assume that your local CSE office is doing nothing.  In fact with collection processes automated at most state and Federal levels, when a threshold amount of unpaid child support is reached, numerous state and Federal agencies are automatically informed of the arrearage.  These notices are translated into various actions such as IRS and state tax liens, driver’s license suspensions, passport denials, and some states are even experimenting with sheriff seizures of automobiles until the back child support payments are made.

Every State Has Collectors

All states have a child support program that for free or a fee not to exceed $25/year will collect child support for a parent, relative or state agency owed support. In some states the state operates the program, in others the county does with state supervision. Native American tribes also offer child support collection services. For most programs, the application for services is available on line.

Federal Law Requires Collection Activities

Under federal law certain collection activities must take place. Wage withholding is the number one tool used. The states have sophisticated computers that contain information from employers about newly hired employees and then match that data against obligated parents and produce an almost immediate wage withholding order.

Other enforcement activities are automated to take place upon a certain threshold of arrears being reached.  Current federal law requires that all states mandate that immediate income withholding of child support is ordered without regard to arrearages.

Using a Commercial Collection Agency

Another method of collecting back child support promoted by the private sector is the use of a commercial collection agency.  More on this at: Using a Private Collection Agency.

Child Support Should Be Sought As Soon As Possible

An important consideration that may be preventing the collection of child support arrearages is the amount of time involved before making a claim.  State collection of child support should be sought as soon as possible. The more arrears accrue the more difficult it is to collect.

Courts will normally agree there must be no unreasonable delay in asserting rights which could work to unduly prejudice the other party.  In some states, enforcement of a claim could further be barred by statute. 

Why Enforcement Sets a Time Limitation

This limitation is primarily intended to allow enforcement of a judgment for back child support with no time limitation, but doesn’t expressly provide for collecting child support backwards in time.  That is, it severely limits or denies a parent or child from filing a claim which should or could have been reasonably made many years earlier, i.e. a claim for support payments to a “child” now in their 30’s or 40’s.

Working Things Out on Your Own

Finally, the most obvious remedy might be to simply contact the non-custodial parent and work things out in a manner which is agreeable to both.  Understanding the nature of the problem and the intention of the parent to make timely payments can often avoid a lot of the expense, administrative burden, and “bad feelings” that can arise when suddenly thrust into the governmental system of collections and punishments.  

However, if a mutual accord cannot be reached, than professional intervention from an attorney or the local CSE office would be advisable to ensure rights and benefits are protected.

Mistakes to Avoid With Mutual Accords

Conversely, do not make the frequent mistake of relying on the oral assurance of the custodial parent that a lesser amount is acceptable for payment due to extenuating circumstances.  Failure to pay the full amount as stated in the child support order can result in serious consequences to the non-custodial parent and give the custodial parent significant leverage in other matters. 

If circumstances have materially changed to allow continued payment since the order, then modify the child support order to reflect those conditions.  In the event a non-custodial parent should agree to pay more than the court order provides, a change to the order is not necessary.  However, if the non-custodial parent agrees to an amount in excess of the order and then refuses to pay it, the custodial parent can file then to amend the child support order.