When a marriage or romantic relationship ends, most parents prove they're capable of being reasonable by agreeing on important matters like child support. However, there are some parents who can't or won't pay for their children’s expenses.
This article will explain how child support is enforced in the State of Vermont. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
A child support order is an official government order that directs who must pay for the basic support and medical care of children. Typically, the “noncustodial” parent, the one who spends less time with the children, must make regularly scheduled child support payments to the “custodial” parent (the parent that cares for the children most of the time) to ensure that both parents are paying a fair share of the children's expenses.
Many divorcing or separating parents are able to agree on an appropriate amount of support. However, a simple verbal or even a written agreement on child support is not enough to give a court or other state agency the authority to go after a delinquent or “deadbeat” parent (a parent that fails to pay child support). You must have an official child support order in place before a judge or agency can take action to enforce a child support obligation.
If you have an agreement on support with your child’s other parent, be sure to have that agreement incorporated into a court order. If you and your child’s other parent can’t agree, you’ll need to file a request for child support and ask a judge to issue an order regarding the amount and frequency of support payments.
For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated and who renders a support decision, please see Child Support in Vermont by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Once there is a child support order in place, it must be obeyed. If it isn’t, and the noncustodial parent fails or refuses to pay, the custodial parent has several options for enforcing the order and collecting overdue support.
If a noncustodial parent has become delinquent and isn’t making payments according to the child support order, the custodial parent may go back to court and file an enforcement action, which means that the parent asks the judge to make the delinquent parent follow the support order and make the required payments. Custodial parents can either file this action on their own and represent themselves in court, or hire a private attorney to pursue the action on their behalf.
The judge has several choices in these situations. It’s not uncommon for judges to fine or jail delinquent parents for “contempt of court” (meaning, the delinquent parent disobeyed a court order – in this case, a child support order). A judge might also require a delinquent parent to pay a portion of the outstanding child support as a condition of
being released from jail. Noncustodial parents can avoid all these outcomes by paying their support in full and on time.
The Vermont Department for Children of Families is part of the Vermont Agency of Human Services. The Department for Children and Families houses a child support enforcement division known as the Office of Child Support (OCS), which provides child support services to both the receiving and non-receiving parents. Federal and state law require the OCS to provide these services, including:
Family court judges and the OCS have a powerful array of legal and financial tools at their disposal, all of which are designed to collect payment from parents with “arrearages” (past-due child support accounts. The tools courts and OCS deploy against a parent that fails to pay support will depend on the facts of the case, and can include: