Child Support Enforcement in Mississippi

Learn how to enforce child support orders in Mississippi.

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.

Child Support Overview

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 State of Mississippi Can Enforce Child Support Orders

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:

  • establish paternity of children born to unmarried couples
  • locate parents who've disappeared
  • establish and modify child and medical support obligations
  • review existing orders and adjust them if necessary
  • collect, process, and distribute child support payments
  • work with other states to ensure that parents pay their support orders, and
  • enforce child and medical support obligations.

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.

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

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:

  • sending withholding orders to employers of parents with arrearages - employers must then withhold funds from the delinquent parent's paycheck and send them directly to DCSE
  • intercepting the paying parent's state and federal tax returns
  • intercepting funds from unemployment checks
  • bringing a legal action called "contempt," which requires the paying parent to appear in court and "show cause," or explain to a judge why support hasn't been paid on time - contempt actions are serious and can result in jail time or entry of a judgment that will damage the paying parent's credit score
  • reporting parents with arrearages to the consumer credit bureaus
  • instituting actions to suspend the paying parent's driver's license, professional or occupational license, and any other state-issued license
  • referring cases with arrearages of more than $2500 to the U.S. State Department, which will automatically deny, revoke, or restrict delinquent parents' passports, and
  • asking a judge to order a parent with arrearages to immediately find employment.

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.

Resources

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

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