Child Support Enforcement in Virginia

Learn how child support is enforced and payments are collected in Virginia.

By , J.D., University of Minnesota School of Law
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When marriages and romantic relationships end, some parents take a reasonable approach to working through child-related issues, while others simply cannot; in some extreme cases, parents will even fail or refuse to pay for their children's expenses after a breakup.

This article will explain how child support is enforced in the State of Virginia. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.

Establishing Child Support

A child support order is an official government document that states who must pay for the basic support and medical care of children. In ordinary circumstances, the "noncustodial" parent, meaning, the parent who spends less time with the children, must make regularly scheduled child support payments to the "custodial" parent (the parent who takes care of the children the majority of the time). This way, both parents are paying a fair share of the children's expenses.

Many couples who split up are able to reach an informal agreement about child support. Sometimes, these agreements are written, and sometimes, they're just spoken. But these kinds of informal agreements are not enough to give the courts or a state agency the power to go after delinquent, or "deadbeat" parents, who don't pay child support. The courts and state agencies can't do anything unless there is a written, official order. It's critical to make sure that an informal agreement is also incorporated (merged) into a formal court order.

If you and your ex can't agree about child support, then you will have to go to court, file a request for child support, and ask a judge to give you an order that establishes 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 Laws in Virginia by Teresa Wall-Cyb.

Remember: once there is a child support order in place, everyone has to abide by it. If the noncustodial parent doesn't make payments in accordance with the order, then the custodial parent has a variety of options for enforcing the order and collecting past-due support.

Enforcing Child Support in Family Court

If a noncustodial parent has become delinquent and isn't making payments according to the child support order, the custodial parent has the right to return to court and file an enforcement action. An enforcement action means that the custodial parent asks the judge to make the delinquent parent follow the support order and make the required payments. Custodial parents can represent themselves in court or they can hire a private attorney to pursue the case on their behalf.

The judge has several choices in these situations. Frequently, judges 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.

State Enforcement of Child Support

The Virginia Department of Social Services houses the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE). DCSE provides child support services to both the custodial and noncustodial parents. Federal and state law require the DCSE to provide these services, including:

  • establishing paternity of children born to unmarried couples
  • locating parents who've disappeared, and
  • establishing, modifying, and enforcing child and medical support obligations

If you need to get in touch with DCSE, you can find contact information here. You can also read a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions about child support in Virginia and access an online list of forms.

How Judges and the State Collect Overdue Payments

Virginia family court judges and DCSE have the ability to deploy legal and financial weapons against parents who don't pay their child support. The goal is to collect payment from parents with "arrearages" (past-due child support accounts). The tools that judges and DCSE uses against the paying parent will depend on the facts of the case, and can include:

  • if the paying parent moves out of Virginia, DCSE can work with other state's agencies to collect child support
  • filing liens against property, like houses and motor vehicles
  • taking state and federal tax refunds and certain other federal money away
  • income withholding – DCSE can locate the delinquent parent's employer and require the employer to deduct child support directly from paychecks; judges can also issue these orders in order to collect support payments
  • reporting arrearages to credit bureaus
  • suspending the delinquent parent's driver's license, and
  • preparing the case for court and asking the judge to initiate contempt proceedings.
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