Have you received notice from your state’s child support enforcement agency that your license is at risk of suspension? License suspension is a serious consequence that can jeopardize your ability to work and take care of daily tasks.
Avoid the suspension of your license due to child support debt by complying with the child support payment requirements. Going forward, you may wish to try to modify your support order if you cannot afford the ordered payments.
The calculation and enactment of child support orders can be confusing. In this article, we will take a look at the child support mechanism and what happens if you do not pay. We will also review possible options for modifying your support order for the future.
How Is a Child Support Order Put in Place?
Child support orders are entered at the state court level in every state. The exact process and methods vary from state-to-state. However, some basic principles do hold true across the country.
There are two main ways a court order for child support is enacted. One is through a custody or divorce case. The other is through the state’s child support agency.
Support Orders through a Divorce or Custody Case
Either parent can file a petition with the court for a dissolution of marriage or for a custody determination. Custody cases are for non-married parents.
As part of either case, the court will enter orders regarding the parenting time, decision-making, and financial support of the child.
Child Support Agencies
Each state has a child support agency. That agency is responsible for the policy and administrative issues surrounding child support.
The state agencies also have local, county-based subdivisions that are responsible for individual cases. These agencies can initiate a child support proceeding.
These child support orders can be distinguished from the private orders above by the IV designation (IV-D, IV-E, and IV-A). This refers to Title IV of the Social Security Act of 1975.
These cases are initiated when a parent is receiving public assistance, when the child is placed outside of the home, and when a parent requests the services of the Office of Child Support Enforcement (CSE).
CSE assists in establishing paternity, finding a parent, establishing a child support order, and enforcing child support orders.
CSE can enforce a child support order regardless of whether they initiated the case. Parents owed child support can open a case with CSE for enforcement assistance.
How is Child Support Calculated
Child support is calculated according to the statutory guidelines of each state. This means the manner of calculation is set in law.
Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures to easily find the guidelines for your state.
There are three child support models states choose from when codifying their support calculation method.
- Income Share Model – This calculation is the most common one used by 41 states. The concept behind this model is that the child should be entitled to the same amount of support as if the parents were still in one household. It does not take into account the greater expenses parents each have as a result of living in two separate homes.
- Percentage of Income Model – This one uses only the non-custodial parent’s income to calculate child support. Six states use this model.
- Melson Model – Only three states use the Melson Model. It is more complex than the other two. It uses the income shares model as the base, but it implements several public policy decisions to ensure each parent’s needs are met.
What Happens when You Miss Child Support Payments
Remember that child support is considered the property of a child. When payments are missed, the receiving parent can pursue full payment.
When Child Support Enforcement is Not Involved
If the parent receiving child support does not have a case with CSE, they have limited options. They can file paperwork with the court to notify the judge of the lack of payment. They will also request specific action.
Parents can request permission to establish an income assignment. If granted, the other parent will send court-authorized paperwork to your employer or bank. In this scenario, the payments will be automatically deducted from your wages or bank account in the future.
Parents can also request an entry of judgment for the amount not paid. This gives the ability to also collect on the back amount rather than just future payments.
Finally, they can also request the court enter any sanctions under the court’s jurisdiction. This varies from state to state, but may include jail time.
Child Support Enforcement of Support Orders
As a state agency, the office of Child Support Enforcement has many more options available for enforcement. A parent can open a case with them to get help enforcing a support order.
CSE does have the ability to suspend your driver’s license, but that is not all. They can also suspend your professional license, intercept your tax return, intercept any gambling winnings, and more.
How to Stop License Suspension
Each state has a specific provision for license suspension. This includes the threshold for when the option becomes available and any ways to delay the suspension.
The threshold for implementing the suspension widely varies based on state. For example, the process can be initiated in California after only one month of missed payments or 15 days in Florida.
Many states have a threshold of 90 days to 6 months of missed payments before initiating the suspension process.
Each state also details the method for stopping the proceeding or reinstating the license. These provisions all require some form of compliance with the child support order.
Ultimately, the short answer is that you must pay the amount owed to stop the license suspension. What exactly that looks like varies by state. Here are a few common set ups:
- Payment of the entire debt
- Entering into an approved- payment plan with Child Support Enforcement
- Requesting an administrative or judicial review within a specific timeframe
- Formally contesting the delinquency of child support
Keep in mind that formally contesting the delinquency of child support refers to the facts surrounding whether the payments were made. This does not address the validity of the child support order. Such a proceeding would be done soon after the support order was entered.
What to Do if You Cannot Afford Your Child Support Payments
If your financial circumstances have changed since the order was entered, you can request a modification. To do this, either file paperwork with the court or reach out to child support enforcement.
If CSE is involved in your case, you may be able to work with them to start the modification process.
When modifying a child support order, keep in mind that the court will still apply the state guidelines. Trying to modify a support order where there are no significant changes will result in a similar, if not identical, order.
Here are some factors that may impact the support order amount:
- Significant increase or decrease of income for either parent (depending on state)
- Change in the quantity of parenting time each parent has
- Significant change in the cost of health insurance or child care cost (depending on state)
What about Past Payments?
If you cannot afford to pay the arrears amount due, your best course of action will be to consult an attorney. They may be able to help you negotiate a payment plan that is more within your means.
What if the Other Parent is being Dishonest about Receiving Payments?
A dispute about the payment of support installments is something the court can review and determine. CSE may also be able to do this if the evidence is very clear.
The best practice to prevent disputes is to always use a method that can be easily tracked. Personal checks for the exact amount and a memo note about the purpose are one easy solution.
Some families try to use a shared account for child support where both parents have access. This can make tracking very hard and is not recommended.
One nearly foolproof way to make child support payments is through your state’s child support clearinghouse. This may be called a support registry or some other term.
The child support agency for each state has a way that the payments can be made directly to them or an entity acting on their behalf and under their direction. That entity then disburses the funds to the receiving parent.
When these payment systems are used, an official record is created that notes the payment and disbursement. This eliminates avenues for disputes later on.
Takeaways to Know When Your License is Being Suspended
The most important thing to remember in this situation is that you must act. Ignoring the outstanding child support will only make things worse. In addition to the accumulation of interest, you may be subject to worsening repercussions. Child Support Enforcement can implement more and more penalties that will impact you.
Some states even have public humiliation lists for those who don’t pay child support. They can be found online and sometimes even run in newspapers. Ultimately, this problem does not go away on its own.