Child support is a vital issue in most states and families today, but many parents are unsure how child support law treats back payments when children turn 18 years of age. In many states, child support payments cease when the child turns 18 or finishes high school, whichever occurs later. However, if there are still arrearage, or back payments due, state laws differ in their requirements.
Child Support Laws
In most states, child support laws require non-custodial parents to provide support for their children until they are 18 or out of high school. In other states, the age at which those payments stop is 21. In some situations, parents may make special agreements to pay child support through college, including college tuition. That is generally considered a contract between the parents, not court-ordered child support, but it is still enforceable by the court as a legally binding contract. It is very important for parents to understand their state laws and continue to make payments as long as the law requires it.
In addition, parents must realize that their child support orders cannot change until the court that decreed those child support orders modifies them, or else the parent petitioning for a change must petition the court in the state where the other parent resides. Parents should not attempt to work out a verbal agreement if the obligor loses their job or has a pay reduction. Verbal or written agreements that are not approved by the court are not binding and may result in collection efforts at the court-ordered amount in the future.
Enforcing Child Support Laws
Once child support laws are ordered by a court, they are legally binding unless or until the court changes those orders. If a parent falls behind in their child support payments, the state has a number of ways of collecting that support until the arrearages (back payments) are made up. Those steps can include:
- Wage garnishment
- Intercepting federal income tax refunds
- Suspension or revocation of driver’s licenses and professional licenses
- Bank account or property attachments and levies
- Contempt of court orders, which can result in fines, jail terms, or both
These processes can continue until the entire amount of arrearages is made up, in many cases, even after the child turns 18 or 21 and the non-custodial parent is no longer responsible for child support. AT that point, collection efforts can continue until the statute of limitations runs out. Those statutes of limitations vary by state, so parents should learn the law in their state.
Getting Legal Help with Collecting Back Child Support Payments
A legal obligation that is in default does not end just because the original payment period ends. Such is the case with child support orders. Just because that support is no longer required on a monthly basis after that point, does not mean that obligors who are behind in their payments and have a judgment against them need no longer make up back payments. They are required until the statute of limitations on those judgments end. Child support attorneys can be extremely helpful in understanding the laws and pursuing those payments until they are all collected and before the statute of limitations runs out.