The Commonwealth of Massachusetts takes child support seriously and there are consequences of not paying child support. A parent who has been ordered to pay it (payor parent) must do so unless and until the child support obligation is terminated or modified by the court. Failure to do so can result in substantial penalties for the delinquent parent. The recipient parent can avail him- or herself of the family court’s contempt procedures or the state’s Child Support Enforcement (CSE) services. The Family Law & Probate attorneys of SederLaw review these options below.
CSE is a division of the state Department of Revenue responsible for taking legal action against parents who don’t pay child support. Parents who should be receiving child support can also retain a private attorney who can file a contempt complaint that will be heard by a family court judge. The advantage of retaining an attorney is that you will receive faster and more personalized service compared to dealing with CSE, a large government agency.
Here we will examine what happens when a parent pursues enforcement via both routes:
Child Support Enforcement
If CSE is responsible for enforcing the child support order, it will begin by mailing the delinquent parent a Notice of Child Support Delinquency. If a parent owes more than $500 or has not made their required minimum payment for the month, CSE can add interest and penalties to the amount due. From there, the penalties imposed by CSE may include:
- Wage withholding order sent to the non-paying parent’s employer, which may be up to 25% of the parent’s wages
- Liens imposed on any real property, vehicles, or boats owned by the non-paying parent
- Levy the non-paying parent’s bank accounts
- Intercept any state or federal tax refunds owed to the non-paying parent
- Intercept any lottery winnings the non-paying parent may have
- Refer any arrears over $2,500 to the U.S. State Department to restrict, revoke, or deny a passport
- Collect workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits to pay towards arrears
- Report delinquencies to credit bureaus
- Suspend the non-paying parent’s driver’s license, professional license (hairdressing license, medical license) or recreational (hunting or fishing) license
The primary mechanism used in family court to hold a delinquent parent accountable for back child support is a contempt complaint. A contempt can result in a loss of personal freedom for the non-paying parent by requiring that person to:
Serve Time in Jail
The sentence may be stayed provided the payor purges themselves of contempt by following the requirements laid out in the order (including those below). In other words, the threat of jail looms unless and until the non-paying parent complies. Courts are generally hesitant to throw a parent in jail for nonpayment unless the failure to pay is willful.
Pay the Full Amount Due
One necessary term of the contempt order will be for the parent to pay what is owed. This will also be a condition of purging contempt and therefore staying an active jail sentence.
Set up a Schedule to Pay the Arrears
This is in addition to the ongoing, regular monthly child support that the parent must pay. The arrears schedule will depend mainly on the amount of arrears.
Actively Seek Employment
Parents who claim an inability to pay because of a job loss can be compelled to seek a job and report regularly to a probation officer on his or her progress in securing employment.
Participate in a Job Readiness or Job Training Program
The delinquent parent will have to report regularly to a probation officer to confirm he or she is participating in this program.
These are not the only remedies the courts and CSE have to enforce child support obligations. But they are among the most severe, and can result in major financial and personal penalties imposed on the non-paying parent. If you’ve been accused of not paying child support, or you are the parent to whom support is owed and you have not been paid, it’s imperative that you retain knowledgeable legal counsel.