This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of Missouri. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
In Missouri, 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."
Whether you're divorcing or you've never been married, when your relationship ends, you should get an official child support order - courts can't typically enforce informal agreements regarding child support. In Missouri, 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 Missouri by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Child support issues can result in stressful disputes between parents. Paying parents wonder if the money they'resending is making it to the children or being wasted on luxury items. Receiving parents nurse grudges as they leaf through the money in their billfolds and wonder if they have enough to make it through the month. Some paying parents think they can resolve these issues by simply cutting off payments. If this happens, receiving parents have several legal options available to enforce child support orders and collect overdue payments.
The Missouri Department of Social Services is a state agency serving the citizens of Missouri with respect to children, families, health care and youth. Within the Department is a separate unit called the Family Support Division (FSD). The purpose of FSD is to enforce state and federal laws regarding child support.
FSD performs critical child support functions. It uses an administrative (non-judicial) process to:
FSD has a variety of collection and enforcement measures available for use when paying parents aren't meeting their child support obligations (see below).
However, family court judges also have the authority to enforce child support orders. In some cases, parents might find it's in their best interest to locate a private lawyer or legal aid attorney who can ask a judge for enforcement orders. In some circumstances, this can be more effective than waiting for FSD to act.
FSD and the family courts have an array of formidable tools they can use to collect 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 number one financial goal to keep up with your child support obligation. You don't want to fall into arrearages and have the FSD squaring off against you. If you think you might fall behind, contact FSD, 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 FSD 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 FSD can take against a parent who's failed to pay child support. Understanding the laws and the options will prepare you to contact FSD and ask them to take the appropriate action to ensure that your children are financially supported and have what they need to thrive.
Missouri Revised Statutes, Title XXX (Domestic Relations)
Missouri Code of State Regulations, Title 13 (Department of Social Services), Division 30 (Child Support Enforcement)
Legal Services of Missouri (child support topics and legal aid for qualifying individuals)
Missouri Department of Social Services