Sometimes, a parent who's been ordered to pay child support stops making payments. When this happens, it's important for parents that are supposed to receive support to understand how to enforce child support and collect overdue payments. This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of Maine. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
Whether you're divorcing or you've never been married, when your relationship ends, you will need to get an official child support order, which will ensure that you can enforce and collect support payments. Courts cannot enforce unofficial child support agreements that haven't been approved by a judge.
Both parents are expected to provide their children with basic financial support for things like food, housing and clothing. They're also responsible for child care costs, extraordinary medical expenses and health insurance premiums. For purposes of this article, the parent who receives child support is known as the "receiving parent," while the parent who has to pay is called "the paying parent." In Maine, child support orders are determined according to each parent's gross income and a mathematical formula known as the child support guidelines. For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated, see Child Support Laws in Maine by Susan Bishop.
When a paying parent stops making child support payments, his or her children will suffer the financial consequences. The receiving parent has several options in terms of enforcing and collecting child support.
Many receiving parents are able to obtain assistance with delinquent child support payments from local child support agencies. In Maine, the Division of Support Enforcement & Recovery (DSER) was established to enforce state and federal laws regarding child support.
DSER performs a number of critical functions. It uses an administrative (non-judicial) process to establish paternity of children born to unmarried couples, establish and modify child and medical support obligations, and enforce child and medical support obligations. DSER also periodically reviews support obligations to make sure they're still fair in light of the parties' total economic picture.
DSER can also act on behalf of a child that is not receiving court-ordered support by seeking enforcement measures against non-paying parents. Generally, DSER charges only a small fee for its services. However, DSER may also have a heavy caseload, so recovering funds could take time. If that's the case, parents may want to consider hiring a private attorney who can go to court and ask a judge to enforce a child support order and issue new orders aimed at collecting payment. In some circumstances, going directly to court can be more effective than waiting for DSER to act.
There are a variety of methods DSER and family court judges can use to collect payment from parents with past-due accounts (known as arrearages), including:
In addition to the above, judges can hold delinquent parents in "contempt" of court, which means the court has determined that the parent who failed to pay child support has disobeyed a court order. A contempt finding can carry heavy penalties, including monetary fines and even jail time. Delinquent parents may be able to avoid or reduce their jail time by paying the overdue child support in full.
Maine Revised Statutes: Title 19-A (Domestic Relations)
Maine Judicial Branch: Citizen Help
Pine Tree Legal Assistance (child support information and legal assistance for qualifying individuals)
Maine Child Support: Division of Support Enforcement & Recovery