Child Support Enforcement in Iowa

Learn what services are available to enforce and collect child support in Iowa.

One of the saddest outcomes of the end of a relationship is that many parents are unable to move past their hard feelings and act in the best interest of their kids. Legions of emotionally wounded children can attest to this.

The typical battleground? Child support. Two people who would be happier living separate lives are still tied together by a child support order. The parent who expects a check argues that the paying parent is cheap and callous, while the paying parent wonders aloud just where all this money is going. Worst of all, sometimes the paying parent falls behind and the authorities get involved, causing stress to everyone in the family.

This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of Iowa. 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

Iowa law requires both parents to support their children. When child support is calculated, both parents are obliged to provide for the welfare of their children, including general financial and medical support. They also have to take into account the children's need for a close relationship with both parents. 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 order to be able to enforce the obligation to pay. In Iowa, child support orders are determined according to a mathematical formula known as the child support guidelines. For more information, see Child Support in Iowa by Teresa Wall-Cyb.

Although many parents have no problem making their child support payments on time, some simply stop paying or refuse to pay as ordered. In these cases, receiving parents need to know what steps to take to make sure their children receive the financial support they need to thrive.

How to Enforce Child Support Orders

Within the Iowa Department of Human Services is a division known as the Child Support Recovery Unit (CRSU). CRSU was established to enforce state and federal laws about child support. CRSU uses an administrative (meaning, non-judicial) process to locate parents who've disappeared, determine paternity of children, trace parental sources of income, establish and modify child support obligations, track child support payments, register out-of-state child support orders, and enforce child support obligations.

CRSU even heads up Iowa's Reliacard program. Reliacard is a kind of debit card issued by the state to receivingparents. Each card is funded by child support money from paying parents, and the card limit is tied to the amounts in the support order. Funds are available on the third business day after a support payment is due.

CRSU can apply very effective enforcement measures when paying parents aren’t meeting their obligations, but the downside is that the office may be backlogged with a high caseload. 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 for help enforcing a child support order. This can be more effective than waiting for CRSU to act.

How Overdue Child Support is Collected

CRSU has a number of legal options it can use to force parents to pay child support when they fall behind, including:

  • 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.
  • Garnishing bank accounts.
  • Arranging for the suspension of the paying parent’s driver’s license, professional and recreational licenses, and motor vehicle registrations.
  • Referring cases to the U.S. Department of State, which will deny a passport to anyone who is more than $2500 behind on child support.
  • Filing reports with credit bureaus to alert them that a paying parent has failed to pay a legitimate debt and comply with a court order.
  • 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.
  • Intercepting the paying parent's federal and state tax returns and applying them to the child support arrearages.
  • Obtaining a lien against a paying parent’s house or land. 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 house or land until child support is current.

If you’re a paying parent, don’t victimize yourself or your family by falling into arrearages. Contact the CRSU, 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 CRSU or prosecutors take enforcement measures against you. Once you're pigeonholed as a deadbeat parent, it’s very difficult to rectify the damage to your finances and your reputation.

Conversely, if you're a receiving parent, it's important that you understand all the enforcement mechanisms that CRSU can take against a parent who isn't paying child support. Understanding the law will prepare you to contact CRSU and ask them to take the appropriate action to ensure that your children are financially supported and have what they need.

Resources

Iowa Code, Title XV (Judicial Branch and Judicial Procedures)

Iowa Legal Aid (child support information and legal assistance for qualifying individuals)

Iowa Department of Human Services

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