Child Support Enforcement in Illinois

Understand how child support is enforced in Illinois.

When couples with children separate or divorce, they must come to some agreements regarding how they will continue to financially support their children. If they can't agree on child support, they will have to go to court and ask a judge to decide. If they can resolve the issue on their own, their child support agreement must be converted into an official child support order for it to become enforceable. Then, if the parent responsible for making child support payments fails to pay, the other parent can go back to court (or to a local agency) and ask for help enforcing the order and collecting payment.

This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the Illinois. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.

Child Support Overview

Under Illinois law, both parents have a duty to provide financial support for their children. Child support includes amounts that are reasonable and necessary to provide for a child’s education and physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Whether you’re divorcing or you’ve never been married, when your relationship ends, you’ll need to get an official child support order. In Illinois, child support amounts are determined according to a percentage of the paying parent’s net income and the total number of children. For more information, see Child Support Laws in Illinois by Susan Bishop. The parent who receives child support is known as the “receiving parent,” while the parent who has to pay is called “the paying parent.”

Child support can be an area of high conflict. Although most paying parents have no problem with their support obligations, some simply refuse to pay court-ordered support. The sections below will explain how child support can be collected in such cases.

How to Enforce Child Support

The sole mission of the Illinois Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is to provide child support services based on the applicable state and federal laws. DCSS uses an administrative (meaning, non-judicial) process to provide a number of services, including a payments processing center (the Illinois State Disbursement Unit, or ILSDU) that accepts checks from paying parents and issues funds to receiving parents. Another of DCSS’s most important functions is enforcement of existing child support orders.

DCSS has a wide variety of procedural options that are geared toward catching up with parents who aren’t making scheduled child support payments. DCSS’s work prevents children and families from falling into poverty. Their tactics can be a thorn in the side of paying parents, so it’s best not to fall behind on your child support obligation.

Generally speaking, DCSS is capable of implementing enforcement measures if paying parents aren’t meeting their obligations. However, they may have a backlog of cases. In urgent or complicated cases, parents might find it’s in their best interest to locate a private lawyer or legal aid attorney who can go to court and ask a judge to enforce a support order on the child's behalf. This can be more effective than waiting for DCSS to act.

What Happens If I Don’t Pay Child Support as Ordered?

DCSS keeps track of all accounts and if a paying parent falls behind, DCSS will choose one or more of the following methods to extract payment:

  • DCSS will hire private collection agencies to collect child support arrearages (meaning, the sum total of unpaid, past-due child support).
  • DCSS can refer severe cases to a state or federal prosecutor, who may choose to open a criminal investigation.
  • DCSS will contact the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations to suspend the professional and vocational licenses of parents who’ve fallen behind on child support for three months or more. DCSS will also contact other licensing agencies, including driver’s licensing agencies.
  • DCSS can refer cases to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which has a collection and asset recovery unit that will attempt to extract the unpaid monies from parents.
  • DCSS can intercept state and federal tax refunds.
  • DCSS will submit child support cases to the Illinois Comptroller, which in turn will submit reports to credit bureaus, thus damaging the paying parent’s credit score.
  • DCSS will refer cases to the U.S. State Department, which will automatically deny passport requests from parents who owe more than $2500 in unpaid child support.
  • DCSS refers cases to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which then withholds a portion of some federal benefits from parents who’ve fallen behind. The Treasury Department, however, can’t withhold veterans’ disability benefits, need-based payments (like SSI), federal student loans, and some kinds of Social Security.
  • DCSS can initiate contempt proceedings. This means that the paying parent has to go to court and explain to the judge why the parent has disobeyed a lawful court order. Contempts are very serious and can result in probation or jail time.
  • DCSS can get a lien against a paying parent’s house or land. The lien won’t be released until the child support balance is brought current, meaning that the paying parent can’t sell or transfer ownership of the land and homes until child support is current.
  • DCSS can add your name to a “deadbeats most wanted list” of people who have fallen $5000 or more behind in child support.
  • DCSS can charge interest on arrearages. It adds up quickly.
  • DCSS can garnish bank accounts, seize assets, and withhold income from paychecks.

If you’re the paying parent, don’t let yourself fall into arrearages and you won’t ever have to face these tough tactics. Get in touch with DCSS, a family lawyer, or a legal aid attorney for advice about reducing your payments and paying off your arrearages. The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem and let arrearages build up until DCSS takes enforcement measures against you.

Resources

Illinois Compiled Statutes (Family Laws)

Illinois Courts Citizen Self-Help

Illinois Legal Aid (child support information and legal aid for qualifying individuals)

Illinois Child Support Services

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