None This Month? Five Steps to Help Collect from Your Ex
You’re owed child support, but the money isn’t coming. What can you do? Experts say successful child support collections are on the rise thanks in part to stronger laws and an increase in the number of resources available to parents. Many of these resources can be found at the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement’s Web site: (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/extinf.html).
“There has been a dramatic improvement in the past 20 years,” says Geraldine Jensen, founder of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support and the author of “Child Support: A Complete Reference.” “The biggest one is collecting child support through income withholding. When they get paid, their child support gets paid. That has literally doubled collections in the U.S.”
According to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, more than 69 percent of child support in theUnited Statesis paid through income withholding. According to the office’s 2006 fiscal year report, almost $24 billion in child support payments were collected and distributed, up from $21 billion in 2003.”If you become educated and know your legal rights, you can guide your case through the system,” says Jensen who served on the U.S. Commission of Interstate Child Support and played a key role in developing and passing child support enforcement laws for paternity establishment, income withholding and federal criminal non support laws.
Jensen urges parents to use these state and federal government resources to enforce their child support payments.
STEP 1: Contact your state or Tribal child support agency.
Local agencies can help you make sure you have a legal child support order in effect. These agencies can also help establish paternity, if necessary. You can find your state or tribe’s agency by clicking on the links provided at this federal Office of Child Support Enforcement Web page:(http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/extinf.html) “I recommend people use the government because they now have these new tools, income withholding and passport suspension and they can attach commissions and bonuses through automation. You don’t have to wait for a caseworker to do something,” says Jensen, who offers child support collection tips at her website: (http://www.familiesonlinemagazine.com/child-support/troubleshooting-child-support-cases.html)
STEP 2: Supply the agency with all the information that can help your case.
The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement’s Handbook (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/pubs/2005/handbook_on_cse.pdf) offers a multitude of tips for tracking down delinquent child support payments. It recommends parents provide the following information about the non-custodial parent to their local agency: name, address and Social Security number name and address of current or recent employer names of friends, relatives and any organizations he or she might join pay stubs, tax and bank statements or any other information about his or her income and assets physical description or photograph children’s birth certificates if trying to establish paternity, include letters or notes where the alleged father has said or implied that he is the father of the child your child support order, divorce decree, or separation agreement if you have one records of any child support received in the past information about your income and assets information about expenses, such as your child’s health care, daycare, or special needs.
STEP 3: Work around roadblocks.
If parents hit roadblocks while trying to collect support, Jensen recommends they continue to work through their state agencies using a “squeaky wheel” approach.”You need to figure out if there is a glitch and you need to complain to a supervisor,” she says. “Send pictures of your children, write your congressman, make noise. I think it helps them realize these are real people and not just one of millions.”
The National Coalition for Child Support Options offers a variety of tips on its Web site and provides links to reach government officials who can help.If the non-custodial parent is self-employed or works for cash or commissions, which make it difficult to deduct child support from a paycheck, the state child support agencies have some other tools to use. According to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement handbook, they include: “state and Federal income tax offset, liens on real or personal property owned by the debtor, freezing of bank accounts, orders to withhold and deliver property to satisfy the debt, passport denial, or seizure and sale of property with the proceeds from the sale applied to the support debt.”
Other tools offered by the federal government include the Federal Parent Locator Service, which helps states track down non-custodial parents and enforce child support orders, the National Director of New Hires, which requires employers to report new hires to a database that is matched with child support records and the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program, which collects past-due child support payments from the tax refunds.
STEP 4: Make yourself aware of costs.
There are some costs involved in tracking down delinquent child support payments. Often, fees are waived for needy families. The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement offers a break down of each state’s fees at its web page. Some states deduct the costs of tracking down a non-custodial parent from the child support payments. Costs may go up for parents who enlist the help of an attorney or private company. Experts recommend parents make themselves aware of all fees involved.
STEP 5: If the regular avenues don’t work, press criminal charges.
Jensen says parents should contact their local county prosecutor or district attorney to press criminal non-support to dependent charges. “Then someone is facing jail time if they don’t face their obligation to support their kids,” she says.If the non-custodial parent lives out of state, federal laws may apply and the charges are filed through the U.S. Attorney. The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, passed in 1998, allows a child support violator to be prosecuted under Federal law if local efforts have been unsuccessful and a required payment hasn’t been made in more than a year or is greater than $5,000.
FOR MORE WEB SITES:
Federal Parent Locator Service
About the author: Stacey Tiedge Alatzas of Bel Air, Md., is a freelance journalist, blogger and new media consultant with 12 years of experience writing and editing for daily newspapers.