Federal Guidelines on the Collection of Child Support Arrears

Children deserve financial support from both parents.
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Regardless of the marital or relationship status of the parents, every child is entitled to financial support from both of them. When a marriage or other relationship breaks up, any children involved come under the jurisdiction of the state. While child support enforcement is the responsibility of each state, the federal government established guidelines for states to follow if the noncustodial parent falls behind in support payments.

Child Support

Even when parents share legal custody, one parent generally is required to pay support to the parent with whom the child lives most of the time. The support amounts are calculated according to the relative incomes of both parents, the needs of the child and state standards. If payments are not paid in the required amount or are not paid on time, a state agency can take action to recover back payments without going through the court system.


The federal government established the Child Support Enforcement program to help states operate their own child support programs, to collect support payments and to act if the noncustodial parent falls behind in payments. States operate these enforcement agencies within the federal guidelines. The CSE office operated by the state or county can initiate methods to collect the amount in arrears. A parent seeking assistance in recovering overdue child support can apply directly to the state or local agency in charge of the CSE program.

Sources of Support Collection

Child support can be withheld from a parent’s income. The delinquent parent’s employer receives a court order to withhold a specific amount of current and back child support and send the funds to the agency handling the case. More than half of child support is paid this way in the United States.

When the noncustodial parent falls behind in payments, the state has the right to collect federal and state income tax refunds to pay the arrearage. The agencies can freeze bank accounts and seize those accounts of people known to be delinquent in child support.

Any real estate or personal property owned by the noncustodial parent can be the subject to a lien that blocks the sale of the property until the lien is satisfied.

Other Remedies

The federal guidelines include other techniques to penalize someone owing back child support. A parent owing over $2,500 in back support can be denied a passport, and a previously issued passport can be revoked or restricted. Delinquent parents can also lose their driver's licenses as well as other professional, business or recreational licenses.

An asset-matching program identifies noncustodial parents owning back child support and matches them to interest and dividend income they receive. Parents with child support orders are reported to credit reporting agencies. Under certain circumstances, delinquent noncustodial parents can be subject to fines and imprisonment.

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