Child Support Enforcement In Massachusetts
Child support is a resented and necessary component of family law. Since both parents are obligated to support their children, it is an issue in every divorce involving children. You will also not avoid the issue in a paternity case even if there is no desire to collect support from the other party. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts already declared by law that parents will share the cost of child rearing.
While most payments proceed smoothly, there are times when they stop and an arrearage, or past-due balance, accumulates. When that occurs, you might require the assistance of child support enforcement measures whether that is through the court or the state agency assigned to that matter.
Child Support Overview
Child support is money one parent pays to the other for the support of their children. It is intended to pay for the child’s basic needs including shelter, food, clothes, and insured health expenses (does not include uninsured medical expenses).
Massachusetts law requires that both parents support their children even if they were unmarried. The parent who has the child living with them most of the time is the custodial parent and that party normally does not have to make support payments to the other. Child support obligations are usually assigned to the non-custodial parent even if there is extensive parenting time assigned to them.
The Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division (DOR/CSE) is the state agency tasked with collecting and enforcing child support. In cases where parties hire attorneys, the DOR/CSE is limited in its involvement to collecting the payments and providing them to the receiving party, if that party chooses to use the DOR services. However, if the custodial parent is on public assistance, the DOR/CSE takes a larger role in setting the amount of child support, enforcing the order, and providing the payment to the custodial parent.
When the parent subjected to the obligation fails to keep up with payments, that is when child support enforcement becomes necessary. This can happen privately through an attorney to enforce the order or through the DOR/CSE office.
Private Child Support Enforcement
Parties who secured a child support order during a divorce, paternity or other family law proceeding by hiring their own attorneys normally opt for private enforcement. Basically, it involves filing a motion with the court that originally decided your matter and asking the judge to enforce that order. If left undisputed, the court issues a judgment for the past due balance which can be collected through negotiation and wage garnishment.
The other party can dispute it, however that effort is usually limited to disputing the amount of the arrearage. It is possible to request a modification of child support at this time but that will usually not change the amount past due. That motion will only adjust future payments, which could make paying off an arrearage easier.
In these cases, the DOR/CSE would only be involved in collecting the payments. A job loss or change without notifying the agency could cause an arrearage of payments. In these cases, the DOR/CSE can enforce the court order and garnish bank accounts and future wages. There is an option to collect these payments without involvement from the state, however you will likely pay high attorney fees for collection efforts that are actually more easily accomplished with the DOR/CSE—and done for free.
State Child Support Enforcement
Another option is to go through the DOR/CSE completely. The agency’s involvement is required if the custodial parent is on welfare or TAFDC. In these cases, the DOR/CSE sets the child support payment, collects it, and applies all but $50 of the payment to the benefit amounts. The custodial parent receives the $50.
Even if you did not originally use the DOR/CSE to establish your claim, you can still work through them to enforce a child support order. There are times when child support payments occur smoothly and arrive on time because you use the DOR/CSE to secure the payments. But when there is a job loss or change that occurs without any notification, having the extra help of the state to find assets and wage sources could lead to more successful collection.
If you already benefited from the full services of the DOR/CSE, they will take action upon discovering non-payment. You will receive notice of the non-payments and their continued enforcement efforts. As collection becomes unsuccessful, the obligated party will face penalties.
Penalties for Non-Payment of Child Support
The first steps in child support enforcement are to inform the obligated party of the arrearage and request payment arrangements. That party will receive papers that explain the need to make an arrangement while making it clear that failure to follow instructions will result in jail time.
However, jail is often the last resort for unpaid support obligations. Before moving to that step, the DOR/CSE attempts the following:
- Withholding tax refunds;
- Garnishing wages and self-employment earnings;
- Attaching real estate and other property;
- Suspending occupational or business licenses;
- Driver’s license revocation; and
- Cancelling a passport or refuse to issue a new one
If the arrearage is over $500, interest and penalties are also assessed against the remaining balance. Attempting to avoid a child support obligation can become very expensive quickly, so it is better to be upfront if you face challenges paying your child support obligation.
When you are facing a child support arrearage and need the funds, you need experienced legal representation. The same is true if your financial circumstances change and you find you cannot keep up with payments. If you’re with a paternity issue, our paternity lawyers can help. Infinity Law Group is a family law firm that has offices in Boston, Quincy, and Needham, MA. Contact us through our website or call us at (855) 941-0909 to arrange for a consultation.