When two parents end their relationship, they face a difficult problem. On the one hand, they have to move on and forge a new, independent life. On the other hand, they'll be tied together for the rest of their lives by virtue of the children they share. All too often, this dual existence prompts hard feelings between exes who would just as soon sever all ties. Nowhere is this seen more often than the realm of child support, where one parent invariably feels the amount is too low while the other thinks it's much too high. Sometimes the turmoil becomes so great that child support doesn't get paid at all.
This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of Massachusetts. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
In Massachusetts, child support includes monetary support (for basics like food, shelter and clothing) and health care, including insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. 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."
Whether you're divorcing or you've never been married, when your relationship ends you need to get an official child support order from a court, so that you can enforce and collect child support if the paying parent stops making payments in the future.
In Massachusetts, child support orders are determined according to each parent's available income and a mathematical formula known as the child support guidelines. For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated, please see Child Support in Massachusetts by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Within the Massachusetts Department of Revenue is an office called Child Support Enforcement (CSE). CSE was established to enforce state and federal laws about child support.
CSE performs a number of critical child support functions. It uses an administrative (non-judicial) process to:
CSE can apply enforcement measures when paying parents aren't meeting their child support obligations. However, 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. In some circumstances, this can be more effective than waiting for CSE to act.
CSE and family court judges have a set of powerful legal tools to collect payment from parents with past-due child support accounts (known as "arrearages"), including:
If you're a paying parent, make sure you keep up with your child support obligation. Don't fall into arrearages. If you think you might have a problem, contact CSE, a family lawyer, or a legal aid attorney for advice about changing your payments and paying off your arrearages. The worst thing you can do is let arrearages accumulate until CSE takes enforcement measures against you. Once that happens, it's a lot harder to repair the damage to your finances and your reputation.
On the other hand, if you're a receiving parent, it's important that you understand all the enforcement mechanisms that CSE can take against a parent who's failed to pay child support. Understanding the laws and the options will prepare you to contact CSE and ask them to take the appropriate action to ensure that your children are financially supported and have what they need to thrive.
Massachusetts General Law, Part II, Title III (Domestic Relations)
The Massachusetts Court System: Self-Help Center
Massachusetts Legal Help (child support topics and legal aid for qualifying individuals)
Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Child Support Enforcement
Massachusetts Child Support Enforcement Division