The duty to pay child support generally starts with an order for support from a state family court. The order may be issued in a temporary or final divorce proceeding or, following establishment of paternity, after a request for support is received from an unmarried custodial parent.
Child support payments are often due at specific times each month and in many jurisdictions may be directly withheld from the paying parent’s wages. In most states, the paying parent may be able to make his or her payments to a child support registry that will forward the payments to the custodial parent and keep track of payments that are made.
When child support is owed but not paid, a variety of measures exist to collect past due amounts and to protect against future non-payments. To ensure payment of child support, many states have laws that allow a family court judge to suspend professional or business licenses, to take away driver and recreational licenses, to require pre-payment of future child support, or to order incarceration for the failure to make court-ordered child support payments.
All states have also created offices of child support enforcement. These federally supported state agencies help locate responsible parents and enforce child support orders. There are also federal laws that criminalize non-payment of child support when the paying parent lives in a different state.
Modification of Child Support Orders
Both the parent receiving child support and the parent paying child support may request changes in child support orders. Some states require regular review of existing child support orders while others review child support orders only upon request. Parents receiving support may have the amount increased upon a showing that the paying parent’s income has increased, especially if the current amount of ordered support does not meet the child’s needs. Support may also be increased because of a child’s specific needs for things like tutoring, medical treatment, or therapy.
Paying parents may be able to decrease the amount of future support payments if they face the loss of a job, a reduction in income or when the custodial parent’s income increases. Federal law prohibits states from forgiving past due child support payments. Courts are reluctant to reduce child support awards and paying parents may have an earning capacity imputed to them whether or not their actual earnings reflect that amount.