If a parent with an agreement to pay child support — or who has been ordered to do so by the Maine courts — refuses to pay or stops payments, help is offered by the state to collect these payments on behalf of the child.
Child support enforcement measures can collect overdue payments and ensure that future payments are collected automatically…
Child support in Maine
When a relationship that bears children ends in Maine, both parents share an equal responsibility for financially supporting the child’s upbringing. This obligation includes the basics such as food, housing and clothing, as well as childcare costs, extraordinary medical expenses and health insurance premiums.
Payments are calculated according to each parent’s gross income and are usually determined by using the child support guidelines formula.
A child support agreement validated by a judge or court-generated child support order sets out the payments that must be made by a parent without primary physical custody of the child to the primary custodial parent.
These payments are mandatory and can be enforced if payment delays or refusals to pay arise. The Maine courts want to ensure that the child is not adversely affected by non-payment of support.
How to enforce child support orders
Local child support agencies in Maine can provide help with collecting payments from paying parents with arrears.
The Division of Support Enforcement & Recovery (DSER) enforces state and federal child support laws. Anyone with a valid child support agreement or order can apply for assistance from the DSER for payments that are more than 30 days late.
If necessary, the agency can:
- Help establish the parentage of a child born to unmarried couples
- Establish and modify child and medical support obligations
- Enforce child and medical support obligations
Child support obligations are enforced on behalf of the child because, without these payments, the child may be negatively impacted.
The DSER also has the authority to review support obligations periodically to ensure that they remain fair in light of both parents’ economic situations.
The Division charges a small fee for its services and receives payment(s) directly from the paying parent before forwarding it to the recipient parent.
This process may take a little time as the caseload with the DSER is high. A quicker way to enforce payment may be for a child support attorney to ask a judge to issue new orders to collect payment via court order.
Methods of collecting overdue child support
The DSER uses a variety of methods to collect payments from the non-paying parent. These include:
- Immediate Income Withholding Order. The DSER arranges with an employer to take money directly from the delinquent parent’s paycheck before it is issued.
- Using the Child Support Lien Network. This enables an insurance company to identify settlement recipients with child support arrears. If there is a match with a settlement, a lien is placed against it and the funds can be used to pay child support arrears.
- Using the Financial Institution Data Match. This allows the DSER to match its records with bank and credit union records in Maine and other states. If there is a match, bank accounts can be garnished or levied to collect the delinquent payments.
- Revocation of licenses. This includes the revocation of a driver’s license, hunting/ fishing/trapping/shellfishing licenses or professional/occupational licenses.
- Interception of tax returns and lottery winnings. State or federally awarded funds may be intercepted by the DSER and used to pay child support arrears.
- Accessing the New Hire Reporting program. Employers must report all new employees to the DSER within seven days, enabling the DSER to track and trace wages, salaries, bonuses and commissions earned by paying parents.
- Medical Support Notice. This requires an employer to add an employee’s children to the health insurance plan and to deduct the cost from the employee’s wages.
Most child support orders include a wage withholding provision or some other approved method to ensure payment of support. If not, the DSER may issue a wage withholding order if it is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.
For an unemployed payer, the DSER has the authority to take up to 65 percent of an unemployment insurance check.
Additionally, delinquent parents who disobey court orders may be held in contempt of court by Maine judges. This can lead to fines and even jail time unless the outstanding amounts are paid.
What happens when a child support case is opened or reopened by the DSER?
The DSER can open or re-open a case on behalf of a child whose recipient parent is not receiving the child support required and/or ordered by the Maine courts.
The DSER’s Central Office will first create or amend the case files and obtain verification of all the information provided to ensure that the application is complete. The case will then be sent to the relevant field office based on the location of the non-custodial parent. Cases where the location or other details of the paying parent are unknown may take longer to apportion.
An agent will be assigned to manage the case. Based on the original application, this agent can help to:
- Locate the non-custodial parent
- Establish paternity for children born outside of a marriage
- Establish child support orders for current and past support, medical support/ insurance and childcare
- Enforce child support, spousal support, medical support/ insurance and childcare obligations
- Record and distribute child support payments
- Review and modify child support orders if/when circumstances change
It should be noted that the DSER cannot provide legal advice to its applicants or assist with parenting arrangements or disagreements. Nor can it provide divorce judgments, custody orders, spousal support orders or property settlement orders as these are matters that must be decided by the Maine courts.
Many people who access help from the DSER also require legal assistance from a suitably qualified Maine divorce lawyer.
Distribution of child support collections
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cases are dealt with by the DSER with greater urgency than standard applications for assistance with collecting support payments.
In non-TANF cases, the following generally applies to support collected by the DSER:
- Payments are processed within two days after receipt of the payment by the DSER
- If the paying parent is ordered to pay support for more than one family, collections are divided among the families
- Parents who are owed past support will generally be paid first
- For joint federal tax returns, collections from refunds may not be distributed for up to six months because an unobligated spouse may be entitled to a portion of the refund
If you need any assistance with a legal matter involving child support, contact an experienced child support attorney at The Maine Divorce Group.