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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Child Support Enforcement


Term Definition Child Support Enforcement - the ways and means child support is collected and enforced.
Application in Divorce Delinquent child support has became a major problem in America, but child support cannot be avoided by crossing state lines. All states have now passed the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, which coordinates state efforts at enforcement of child support. Under this act, a former spouse -- a wife or mother living in one jurisdiction -- institutes support proceedings against a father or husband living in another. The court in the jurisdiction of the husband or father then issues process for his appearance and a support order is issued, and it is transmitted to the court in the initiating state.

In addition, The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), a new uniform law regarding child support and alimony for parties from different states, provides for cooperation among the states in enforcement of support.

States may have different versions of UIFSA, so the advice an attorney may be required.

Moreover, on a local level the courts have tools to enforce child support.

Courts use bench warrants to deal with parents who have failed to pay support because it is considered a form of contempt of court.

A person who fails to abide by a court order risks arrest. Bench warrants are typically not issued unless several attempts have been made to contact the individual, and he or she has not made an effort to respond or rectify the issue at hand. Courts issue a bench warrant for the arrest of a delinquent payor of child support. The warrant is normally a last effort to persuade a payor to become current on the past due payments. The problem with this tactic is that a payor who is actually jailed due to a bench warrant is going to have a tough time generating income to pay support from jail.

On a state level, the Child Support Enforcement Unit (CSE) of each jurisdiction gathers information, establishes parentage and collects child support. These agencies originally worked with welfare recipients, but the jurisdiction was later enlarged.

This agency can help a custodial parent attach a wage garnishment to a former spouse’s income, accept payments from a noncustodial parent and distribute them, track a payment history, follow up on delinquent payments, insure that the child’s health insurance is in place, monitor a spouse’s employment efforts (when nonpayment is the result of job loss), and work with a spouse to make back payments.

Resources: Every state maintains a state child support enforcement agency website. The General Services Administration is also a place to begin. Its number is 888-878-3256.

In addition, the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 authorizes the Department of the Treasury to withhold tax refunds to cover delinquent tax refunds to pay delinquent child support. The Debt Collection Improvement Act expedites the collection of delinquent child support by authorizing the Internal Revenue Service to withhold income tax refunds to taxpayers who are delinquent in their child support. The act makes a tax refund intercept a sharp tool in the collection of delinquent support. State and federal income tax refunds can be taken directly from a tax refund of a delinquent spouse.

Other child support enforcement tools include attachments, which are liens against property; garnishments, which are wage withholding orders; security or bonds, which are guarantees of future payment. Child support cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. Both civil and criminal contempt of court are extreme actions taken in the face of delinquent support.

Resources: the federal Child Support Enforcement Administration. The General Services Administration is also a place to begin. Its number is 888-878-3256.

Improved technology has also come into play against deadbeat parents. The Automated Child Support Enforcement System (ACSES) is a new computerized network used in most jurisdictions to collect child support that came into being with the Family Support Act of 1988. This system has helped diminish the amount of unpaid support and has allowed for a greater opportunity to collect back-due child support.

Nongovernmental agencies also are available to help custodial parents. The Association for Children for the Enforcement of Support (ACES), the largest nonprofit child support group in the United States, assists disadvantaged children affected by parents who fail to meet their legal, moral and financial obligations to support them.

ACES offers "how to" instructions and educational information about child support enforcement, visitation rights and paternity determination. It provides a telephone hot-line for affected families seeking information and understanding.

Resources: the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support: www.childsupport-aces.org. The telephone number is 800-537-7072.

See also UIFSA; ACES; Garnishment, Attachment.

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