Child Support Enforcement in Indiana

Learn how child support orders can be enforced in Indiana.

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.

What is Child Support?

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.

What Role Does the State of Indiana Play in Child Support Enforcement?

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.

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

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:

  • Establishing a regular payment plan, and collecting on arrearages when it's financially feasible.
  • Initiating contempt proceedings. This means that the paying parent has to go to court and explain to the judge why the parent disobeyed a lawful child support order. Contempts are very serious and can result in jail time.
  • Obtaining an income withholding order to automatically withhold child support from the paying parent's wages. The paying parent’s employer then has to be formally notified about the situation so payroll can be adjusted.
  • Capturing past-due money by withholding the paying parent’s state and federal tax returns and lottery winnings.
  • Crossing state lines to pursue child support when the child or the paying parent moves to another state.
  • Arranging for the suspension of the paying parent’s driver’s license; fish, trapping and game licenses; racing and gaming commission licenses; insurance, recovery, and bail agent's licenses; and professional and vocational licenses when the paying parent is $2000 or three months past due. The suspension will be wiped off the books if the paying parent pays the balance in full, signs a repayment agreement, or requests a hearing within 20 days of receiving notice of the suspension.
  • Obtaining a lien against a paying parent’s motor vehicle. The lien can’t be released until the child support balance is brought current. This means the paying parent can’t sell or transfer the vehicle until child support is current.
  • Charging the payment parent with a felony for Nonsupport of a Child (an Indiana state crime), and also referring the case to the U.S. Attorney for possible federal prosecution.
  • Charging interest of up to 1.5% per month on delinquent accounts. It adds up quickly!
  • Asking a judge to sign and enter a judgment for past-due child support payments. A judgment has a disastrous effect on a paying parent’s credit scores and enables the government to take aggressive action to collect on the judgment.

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

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Swipe to view more

Talk to a Divorce attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you