Child Support Enforcement in Delaware

Learn how child support is enforced and overdue payments are collected in Delaware.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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All parents have a duty to financially support their children. When parents divorce (or separate if they were never married), they need to work out how they will continue to provide the support necessary for their children to thrive.

Typically, the noncustodial parent (parent with less custodial time) pays child support to the custodial parent, under court order, to help cover the child's expenses. When noncustodial parents refuse to pay court-ordered child support, each state's laws determine how custodial parents can enforce a child support order and collect overdue payments.

This article explains how Delaware enforces child support orders. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney for help.

Establishing Child Support in Delaware

Delaware courts will only enforce child support orders that have been approved by a judge and filed with the court clerk. If you don't have a court-approved child support order on file with your local court clerk, you'll need to establish child support formally.

You can file for child support on your own, with the help of an attorney, or with the help of the Delaware Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE). If you're filing on your own, use this form petition for support.

File the completed petition (written request) in the clerk's office of New Castle, Kent or Sussex County. The clerk's office can help you serve a copy of the petition on your child's other parent, and set a hearing date for your child support case.

Both parents have to appear for the child support hearing. If you and the other parent agree on a monthly amount of child support, and the court agrees, the judge will sign a child support order that incorporates and/or conforms to your agreement.

If you and the other parent don't agree, a judge will decide the amount of child support to be paid after listening to both sides. You should be prepared to show proof of any expenses or other circumstances you want the judge to consider. The judge will then issue an order stating the required amount and frequency of child support.

Enforcement of Child Support in Delaware

Delaware has strict laws to ensure that noncustodial parents meet their child support obligations or face stiff consequences.

Petition for Child Support Arrears

If you are a custodial parent, and the noncustodial parent stops paying child support, you should file a "petition for child support arrears." In this petition, you will let the court know that the other parent is behind on support. You can ask the judge to hold that parent in "contempt" and order that he or she pay the overdue support.

Being held in contempt means you've willfully violated a court order, and it comes with a number of penalties designed to both force payment of child support and punish a parent for nonpayment.

To prove your child's other parent is in contempt, you'll have to show the following:

  • there is a valid child support order signed by a judge and filed with your local family court
  • the other parent has the ability to pay the amount ordered, and
  • the other parent has not paid child support according to the terms of the court order.

When the court finds a parent in contempt of a child support order, the judge will issue a new order detailing how overdue payments should be made and how that parent will be punished for nonpayment, which may include the possibility of jail time.

If you want to file the petition on your own, use this form Petition for Child Support Arrears. You will file it in the clerk's office of New Castle, Kent or Sussex County, depending on where your child lives.

You can also hire an attorney to file a petition for child support arrears, or you can apply to have DCSE file the petition on your behalf.

Court Orders to Collect Child Support

Once a parent has been found in contempt of a child support order, the court and/or DCSE can take a number of different steps to force the delinquent parent to make support payments. Either the judge's order or DCSE may:

  • withhold money from a parent's income to pay child support
  • intercept state or federal tax refunds
  • attach liens to real or personal property, and foreclose on that property to get child support money
  • garnish bank accounts or other assets
  • withhold unemployment compensation
  • intercept Delaware lottery winnings, or
  • use a private collection agency to go after the delinquent parent.

DCSE also has several services they can use to help track down delinquent parents and their sources of income, including:

  • State Directory of New Hires: every employer doing business in the state has to report information about each new employee to the state directory, including social security number and salary and/or wages. DCSE has access to the state directory when searching for delinquent parents.
  • Parent Locator: DCSE has access to tax returns, Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles' information, public housing records, criminal histories, deed and title registry records, credit bureau records, and vital statistics records (including birth, marriage, divorce and death records).
  • Financial Institution Data Match: every financial institution doing business in Delaware must cooperate with a request from DCSE to check their account holders for matches with delinquent parents.

Other Penalties for Nonpayment of Child Support in Delaware

The court and DCSE also have other tools at their disposal that may not directly force delinquent parents to comply with child support orders, but punish those parents for nonpayment of support:

  • The state will suspend or deny delinquent parents' drivers, professional, occupational, business, and recreational licenses. Delinquent parents have 20 days after the state notifies them to either pay all outstanding support, agree to a payment plan, or request a court hearing. If they don't take one of these steps, the state will suspend their licenses.
  • DCSE also reports parents with overdue child support to credit bureaus when they are at least $500 behind.

If you have any other questions about enforcing child support orders in Delaware, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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