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.
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.
Delaware has strict laws to ensure that noncustodial parents meet their child support obligations or face stiff consequences.
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:
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.
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:
DCSE also has several services they can use to help track down delinquent parents and their sources of income, including:
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:
If you have any other questions about enforcing child support orders in Delaware, contact a local family law attorney for advice.