This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of Mississippi. 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, if you and your child's other parent have decided to end your relationship, you will need to determine how to financially support your child. Some parents come to an agreement about how much to pay, but the only way to make child support enforceable is to obtain an official child support order from a court.
In Mississippi, 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 in Mississippi by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Child support is intended to pay for the basic care (food, shelter, clothing, education) and medical support (insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs) of children. 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."
Child support can be a high-conflict issue for some parents. Paying parents may suspect that receiving parents are squandering child support instead of paying for the children's needs. Receiving parents might be resentful because they're struggling to make every penny count. But child support is only paid for the benefit of the children and must be used to pay for the children's care. The receiving parent is only a custodian, not an owner, of child support funds.
Thus, it is never a good idea to simply stop paying child support out of spite. If you are the receiving parent and need help enforcing a child support order, you may be able to get help from your local child support office.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services is a state agency serving the citizens of Mississippi. Within the department is a separate unit called the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE). DCSE was established to enforce state and federal child support laws.
DCSE performs a number of critical child support functions. It uses an administrative (non-judicial) process to:
DCSE can also apply enforcement measures when paying parents aren't meeting their child support obligations (listed below). 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 DCSE to act.
DCSE has a powerful toolkit of legal maneuvers it can use to obtain payment from parents with past-due child support accounts (known as arrearages). The tools include, but are not limited to:
If you're a paying parent, make it your top priority to keep up with your child support obligation. You don't want to fall into arrearages and have the DCSE legal machinery deployed against you. If you think you might fall behind, contact DCSE, a family lawyer, or a legal aid attorney for advice about changing your payments and paying off yourarrearages. The worst thing you can do is let arrearages accumulate until DCSE takes enforcement measures against you. Once that happens, it's a lot harder to repair the damage to your finances and your reputation.
If you're a receiving parent, it's important that you understand all the enforcement mechanisms that DCSE can take against a parent who's failed to pay child support. Understanding these options will prepare you to contact DCSE and ask them to take the appropriate action to ensure that your children are financially supported and have what they need to thrive.
Mississippi Code, Title 93 (Domestic Relations)
State of Mississippi Judiciary
Mississippi Legal Services (child support topics and legal aid for qualifying individuals)
Mississippi Department of Human Services, Division of Child Support Enforcement