It's hardly out of the ordinary for ex-partners to quarrel about child support. Paying parents think they're overpaying and that their exes are squandering the money on frivolous items. Receiving parents think their exes are stingy and self-centered. Worst of all, sometimes paying parents don't even pay their child support obligation—they say they can't afford it, or else they don't pay on time. The losers in all this? The kids.
This article will cut through the background noise and explain how child support orders are enforced (meaning, how they become effective) in the State of Indiana. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
Indiana law requires both parents to pay child support. Child support is defined as a payment made by a parent to provide for a child's monetary support, health care, arrearages (past-due child support), or reimbursement. It may also include interest, income withholding, and attorney's fees. The parent who receives child support is known as the “receiving parent,” while the parent who has to pay is called “the paying parent.”
Whether you’re divorcing or you’ve never been married, when your relationship ends you need to get an official child support order. In Indiana, child support amounts are determined according to a mathematical formula known as the child support guidelines. For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated, see Child Support in Indiana by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Child support is an area of high conflict for parents. Paying parents feel that they’re subsidizing a more lavish lifestyle for their exes. But that shouldn't be—and isn't—true. Child support is only paid for the benefit of the children. Just because the receiving parent controls child support funds doesn’t mean that parent can use the money for a dream vacation or expensive gifts for a new lover. Child support has to be used to pay for the children’s care. The receiving parent is only a custodian, not an owner, of child support funds.
The Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) is a state agency that was established to enforce state and federal laws about child support. DCS uses an administrative (meaning, non-judicial) process to determine paternity of children, establish and modify child support obligations, track child support payments, and enforce child support obligations.
DCS can apply enforcement measures when 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 argue to a judge on their behalf. This can be more effective than waiting for DCS to act.
Indeed, each of Indiana's County Attorney offices (you may know them from television as district attorneys or prosecutors) focus on the prosecution of criminal offenses, but also have a separate child support division that applies Indiana and United States child support laws to enforce child support through the courts. These offices, while separate from DCS, perform similar functions in a judicial setting. They work to establish child support, modify the amount or payment terms when necessary, and swing the enforcement mechanisms into action if the paying parent falls behind. There's one major caveat: the County Attorney doesn't represent either parent. The County Attorney assigned to your case will only represent your children's best interests. That means it might behoove you to get your own attorney.
DCS and the County Attorneys have a number of legal options they can use to force parents to pay child support when they fall behind. For the most part, DCS implements the actions, and the County Attorneys monitor them. The options include:
If you’re a paying parent, don’t make the terrible mistake of letting yourself fall into arrearages. Get in touch with DCS, the County Attorney's office, a family lawyer, or a legal aid attorney for advice about reducing your payments and paying off your arrearages. Frequently all you have to do is enter into a payment plan and keep up with the payments, and pay the arrearages slowly, over time. The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem and let arrearages build up until DCS or prosecutors take enforcement measures against you. Once you're blackballed as a deadbeat parent, it’s a lot harder to undo the damage to your finances and your reputation.
Indiana Code, Title 31 (Family Law and Juvenile Law)
Indiana Judicial Branch Self-Service Legal Center
Indiana Legal Aid Services, Inc. (child support information and legal aid for qualifying individuals)
Indiana Department of Child Services