Collecting Back Child Support

Are you having issues collecting back child support? Unfortunately, you aren't alone. According to recent data, 30.2% of custodial parents have not received the child support that was ordered (1)

by WomansDivorce Staff | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D. 

This statistic is alarming, because child support payments are meant to help ensure that children's needs are met after their parent’s separation or divorce. Unfortunately, not all parents fulfill their financial obligations, which leads to child support arrears.

There are various methods for collecting back child support such as wage garnishment, tax refund seizure, passport denial, and more. The first place that many people start is with the state's Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED). Federal law requires that the services of the CSED in each state be made available to anyone who requests them (2)

Additionally, the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 gives district and state attorneys the authority to collect the delinquent child support through various methods such as:

  • ordering wage garnishments,
  • freezing bank accounts,
  • suspending occupational or business licenses,
  • revoking driver's licenses,
  • suspending hunting licenses,
  • placing liens on property, and
  • seizing lottery winnings.

Private attorneys may be used to help collect past due amounts by bringing contempt of court charges (which could lead to jail time) and serving wage assignment orders. 

If you need a lawyer to handle the matter, you can get a free case evaluation from a local child support lawyer to get the process started.

There are also private agencies that offer services for collecting back child support. If you do decide to use a private child support collection agency, find out how much it will cost and read all the paperwork very carefully before signing the collection contract.  Also, be aware that some child support enforcement agencies may close your case when you start using a private collection agency.

Below you can find answers to the most common questions asked about collecting back child support: 

Collecting Back Child Support FAQs

Does back child support go to the child or parent?

Travis' Question: I just turned 18 and my mom has kicked me out of the house. The courts have ordered my dad to pay the back owed child support. Am I entitled to any of it since I'm not living with my mom anymore?

Brette's Answer: Sorry, no. Only the parent can collect child support. Retroactive child support is for the past - when you were living at home and being supported by your parents.

Can his tax refund be seized for collecting back child support?

Mandy's Question: I am owed back support on my children from a previous relationship, but have never received a dime from their father's tax return. Is there paper work I should fill out or do I call IRS?

Brette's Answer: If your child support is being collected through your state child support collection agency, get in touch with them for help in collecting back child support. If it is not, you can petition the court to have it collected in this way. They are responsible for notifying the IRS.

What happens with the money if a tax refund is seized?

Chris's Question: Where and who gets any back child support. I was $8000 behind and they have taken my tax refund for the last two years, but my ex says he hasn't received it.

Brette's Answer: You need to get in touch with your state child support enforcement agency. They will have records. If your tax refund was taken, it should be applied to your account. If you don't want that to happen again, you need to adjust the amount you're having taken out of your pay.

My tax refunds are being seized for the back support my ex owes.

Meghan's Question: I have lost my state and federal taxes for the past two years because the child support enforcement claims I owe child support. I have always had custody of my 13 year old. My son’s father has 10 kids and owes $15,000 in back child support (that’s what they are claiming I owe). How do I get my taxes back for his back child support and why do they put his debt on my case?

Brette's Answer: You should talk to your state child support agency to get this straightened out. 

Can a bank account be seized to pay delinquent child support?

Rachel's Question: My husband is paying support for 2 children from a previous relationship. He recently became unemployed and I am the only one working to support all of us. I have heard that if we don't pay his child support, the IRS could wipe out our joint bank account to keep paying his arrears. Is this true? Can we get his child support obligation reduced based on his unemployment compensation?

Brette's Answer: He should file for a modification based on the change in employment. The IRS would not take your bank account, but the court could certainly order that those assets be seized. If he fails to pay child support his tax refund can be taken - that's where the IRS comes into play.

Will it affect back child support if my ex declares bankruptcy?

Sarah's Question: If my daughter's father was to file bankruptcy and he owes back support, will the bankruptcy wipe out the back support he owes?

Brette Answers: No. Child support is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Good luck.

Can I file bankruptcy on the child support arrears?

Jackie's Question: My son is 20 and my daughter is 18. They both live on their own. My arrears on them is $3,000.00. Can I file bankruptcy on the child support arrears?

Brette's Answer: Child support arrears are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Can he go to jail for being in arrears for so long?

Kay's Question: I have been divorced for 5 years and have not been receiving child support. I finally told my ex that he needs to start paying and he gave me half of the ordered support. Then said he is taking me back to court because the amount he has to pay is unfair. If we do go to court, will he end up going to jail for contempt of court for not paying child support and being in arrears for so long?

Brette's Answer: It is unlikely he would go to jail. That happens in rare cases after many failed attempts at collecting back child support. He can ask for a modification in the amount, but unless something has changed since the order was entered, he won't get it.

Is there a statute of limitations on collecting back child support?

Diane's Question: My son is now 37 and his father quit paying child support when my son was 8. Is there a statute of limitation for collecting back child support that is owed to me?

Brette's Answer: It depends on your state laws. Check with an attorney. 

How much arrears will be due once a child is emancipated?

Kay's Question: Once a child is emancipated and the non custodial parent is in arrears, what is the maximum amount of arrears the non-custodial parent can be ordered to pay?

Brette's Answer: The arrears that is due is whatever child support was due under the order. If the child emancipates, the order has to be changed for child support to no longer be due. Arrears would be due up to the date of emancipation.

Will he still be responsible for back child support after we turn 18?

Rachel's Question: My father owes us nearly $100,000 in back child support. My brother turns 18 in a couple of months and I will in a couple of years. Will my father still be responsible for the money he owes us even after we turn 18?

Brette's Answer: Your father owes the money to your mother, not to you, and she is the only one who has the right to collect it. He is still responsible for back child support even if you are 18.

Who gets back child support after the child is 18?

Gail's Question: My child is now of age and my ex has been in arrears for a very long time. He is now the recipient of a large settlement and has the ability to pay most of what is owed. The attorney wants me to settle for half the amount. Otherwise, my ex intends to ask the judge to put the money directly into our child's account. Is this legal? I am still supporting our child and intend to as long as needed.

Brette's Answer: Just because he asks the judge to do it does not mean the judge will. Child support is to be used by the parent to pay the child's expenses. Even if the money were placed in your child's account, your child could certainly gift that money to you.

Can I get into legal trouble for forgiving back child support?

Violet's Question: Can I get into legal trouble for forgiving back child support owed to me as a condition from the non-custodial parent to allow my husband to adopt my son?

Brette's Answer: No, it's up to you whether you wish to enforce the rights the court has given you.

Can the child forgive any back child support that is owed?

Jasmine's Question: If a child becomes emancipated (turns 18) and child support is owed in that child's case, is that child able to forgive all or some of the back child support that collected?

Brette's Answer: No. The child has no legal standing in that lawsuit and is not a party to it. Child support is owed by one parent to another.

Should I forgive the back support if he quitclaims the house to me?

Lisa's Question: We separated four years ago and now I'm divorcing him. He's in federal prison with four years left to go and owes me over $13000 in back child support. He also has numerous judgments against him. We own a house and he said he will quit claim the house to me only if I forgive the back child support and don't collect while he's in jail. I'm unsure of what to do.

Brette's Answer: Get a lawyer. Don't sign away anything to someone who is in jail, has no income stream, and can't possibly pay you back child support. It's not his decision if you get the house. Of course a judge will give you the house.

What happens to back child support if the custodial parent dies?

Alison's Question: My ex-husband owes child support arrears in the amount of $111,000. Right now his wages are being garnished each month. If something happens to me, are my adult children entitled to the money he owes me and how do I make sure they would get it?

Brette's Answer: The money would be owed to your estate and the administrator or executor of that estate could pursue collection. The money would be distributed to the beneficiaries of your will or your heirs as indicated under your state intestate statute.

Can the delinquent child support be paid from his estate?

Find out if child support arrears can be collected from the estate here.

Do I have to pay back support if the child’s guardian is dead?

Susan's Question: If my child now has a child of his own, why do I have to pay back child support? And if the child's guardian passed away, who is getting the money?

Brette's Answer: If there is an order or judgment for back child support and the parent receiving it dies, the money is still owed to the estate. Whoever the heirs are would get the money. If you have questions about this or are seeking modification, you should talk to an attorney. 

Can the estate reopen the child support claim against the father?

Christie's Question: My mother was made custodial guardian for my nephew while my sister was incarcerated. She submitted a claim, but never received any child support from my nephew's father. Both my parents are now deceased and my nephew's father is about to inherit some money. The statute of limitation is still in force. Can my mother's estate reopen the child support claim against the father, and if awarded, are the funds divided among my mother's heirs?

Brette's Answer: You should check with an attorney in your area to determine if the estate is able to file a claim for this in your state at this point in time. If the estate receives the funds then they are distributed among the heirs.

Is the back support forgiven if he dies without money or an estate?

Gabriella's Question: If he dies and has no income nor estate, is the back child support forgiven?

Brette's Answer: It's not forgiven, but that's essentially the end of it. There's nowhere to get the money from.

Is back child support taxable as income?

Wilma's Question: My ex vowed he would never pay a dime of child support and he never did for over 30 years. I sued his estate after his death and received a lump sum distribution from his estate for the back child support. Is this back child support taxable as income?

Brette's Answer: No. Child support is not taxable income.

Will a retroactive modification of child support affect the back support owed?

Lisa's Question: My children's father is requesting a retroactive modification. In Indiana it goes back to the date he filed the petition. If the judge rules in favor of him, how can they take that money from the children? He currently owes me 8K in back support.

Brette's Answer: You wouldn't pay it back. It should be deducted from what he owes. You can file for violation and enforcement for the arrears.

Can I get back child support if support orders were never issued?

Stacey's Question: Last year I was in the process of getting child support. Now my daughter’s father is filing for custody. Can I still get arrearage from the last 16 years even if he gets custody of her?

Brette's Answer: If support was never ordered, you can't get an arrearage.

Will he still owe back child support if he gets custody?

Erin's Question: My ex is pushing to get custody changed. Does it modify the support order if he does get custody, and will he still owe the back child support?

Brette's Answer: He owes the back child support no matter what. If he gets custody, he can get the current order changed so he is owed support.

Is my ex still liable for back support if my new husband adopts my daughter?

Jessica's Question: When my husband adopts my daughter, does that automatically wipe out any past due child support that is court ordered from her biological father or is he legally responsible until the debt is paid off?

Brette's Answer: Past child support remains as owed since it is from when the biological dad was still a legal dad.

Is back support still owed if the child dies?

Sabra's Question: If the child for whom you owe back child support has passed away, are you still liable to pay that money?

Brette's Answer: Yes. Child support from while the child was alive would still be due. 

Copyright | Updated February 20, 2024