If you are owed child support based on a court or administrative order, you are entitled to the amount owed, with interest, and possibly attorneys’ fees as well. This is true even if your children have already reached the age of majority.
First, it’s important to note that there are two ways you can get a child support order: 1) through the court, and 2) through an administrative order. You get a court order from a judge. You get an administrative order from a child support officer who works in the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
Either type of order can be enforced. Administrative orders can be enforced by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and a court order can be enforced through the court with a petition that is called a Petition for Rule to Show Cause and Indirect Civil Contempt.
This type of petition tells the court that an order has not been followed and asks the court to issue a Rule to Show Cause against the non-paying parent. A Rule to Show Cause is an order requiring the non-paying parent to appear in court and show cause (give good reason) why he or she should not be held in contempt of court for failing to pay child support. Once a Rule is issued, then the non-paying parent must appear at a hearing and explain any good cause for non-payment. Typically, this is a difficult standard to meet.
Often, upon receiving notice of a Petition for Rule to Show Cause, a non-paying parent may file a Motion to Modify Child Support, asking to change the amount of support. For that reason, sometimes child support is recalculated in these cases.
At the end of the case, a judgment for arrears (past due support) plus interest is entered and the non-paying spouse will be ordered to pay (often in payments) the past due support. In addition, if a judge finds that the non-paying parent did not have a legitimate reason for failing to pay, the parent who filed the motion can request attorneys’ fees as well.
Collecting unpaid child support involves a detailed process. It is best to consult with an attorney before deciding to begin a court case to enforce a child support order, to make sure that all of your rights are protected in the process.