When a marriage or a relationship comes to an end, most parents recognize the importance of covering their children's financial needs, but a smaller number of parents can't or won't help with these expenses.
This article will explain how child support is enforced in the State of West Virginia. 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 orders are official government orders that state who must pay for the basic care and medical care of children. Ordinarily the "noncustodial parent" (the parent who spends less time with the children) makes regularly scheduled child support payments to the "custodial parent" (the parent who spends more time with the children. This approach ensures that both parents are paying their fair share.
A great many parents whose marriage or relationship has ended are nonetheless able to cooperate and come up with an informal child support agreement. These agreements are sometimes reduced to writing, and other times they just consist of the spoken word. The problem with these agreements is that they're not enforceable. Only a formal, official child support order issued by a judge is enforceable. This means that if you only have an informal agreement and the noncustodial parent becomes a "delinquent" or "deadbeat" parent who doesn't pay child support, state agencies and courts can't help. The solution is to go to court and ask a judge to "incorporate" (make a part of) your informal agreement into a formal court order.
Some parents can't agree about child support. In those cases, they'll need to go to court and ask the judge to issue an order that establishes the amount and frequency of child support payments.
For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated and who renders a support decision, please see Child Support in West Virginia by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Keep in mind that once a child support order is in place, both parents have to follow it. If the noncustodial parent doesn't pay as ordered, the custodial parent has the legal right to pursue several different avenues to collect the overdue support.
If a noncustodial parent has become delinquent and isn't making payments or following the child support order, the custodial parent has the right to go back to court and file an enforcement action. An enforcement action simply asks the judge to require the delinquent parent to follow the support order and make all 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 deciding how to handle an enforcement action. It's not uncommon for judges to fine or even to 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.
Within West Virginia's Department of Health & Human Resources is a special unit called the Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE). BCSE is tasked with providing child support services to both custodial and noncustodial parents. Federal and state law require the BCSE to provide these services, including:
If you need to get in touch with BCSE, you can find contact information here. You can also read a comprehensive glossary of terms you should know about child support in West Virginia and access online forms. There is also an online slideshow that you should make time to view, so that you'll understand the process better. It explains some of the common misunderstandings about child support in West Virginia.
Be aware that if you don't pay your child support exactly as ordered, family court judges and BCSE have a toolkit of legal and financial instruments they can use against you. BCSE's goal is to extract payment from parents who have "arrearages" (past-due child support accounts). The tools that the courts and BCSE can use include: