What Can DHHS Do to Make Me Pay Child Support in Maine?

What Can DHHS Do to Make Me Pay Child Support in Maine

If you’re ordered to pay child support in Maine, the laws here provide several ways to enforce the commitment.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is empowered to collect both current and overdue child support. Any DHSS notices about collecting support should not be ignored as doing so could negatively impact your financial position further.

Here we look at how the child support laws are enforced in Maine, as well as what income or property may be at risk and what is protected.

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What does Maine law say about parental child support duty?

Under federal and Maine state law, parents are legally responsible for supporting their children financially and raising them — regardless of marital status — until the age of majority (18) or they complete high school.

In most cases, the parent with whom the child does not live is responsible for sending monthly payments to help the custodial parent with the financial burden of raising the child, including daily living expenses and the costs of health care, insurance and child care.

What is the DHHS’s role in child support?

Under state and federal law, it is the responsibility of the DHHS to collect child support.

In Maine, the state’s Division of Support Enforcement and Recovery (DSER) works with the offices of DHHS to enforce child support orders. The DSER is empowered to collect child support for families that:

  • Receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): in this case, the DHSS may retain some of the support collected to pay back the State for the TANF assistance provided, or
  • Do not receive TANF, but request help from the DHHS to collect the support:

A small collection fee may be charged for non-TANF families who request the Division’s assistance.

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How can the DHHS take money from me?

The DHHS can take money that is owed in child support from you in several different ways.

One of the most effective means is wage garnishment or an Immediate Income Withholding Order. This is where the DHHS arranges with your employer to take money directly from your paycheck before you receive it.

Almost all child support orders automatically include a wage withholding provision unless you have some other approved way to pay the support. If there is no automatic wage withholding order, the DHHS will likely issue one unless, for some reason, it’s not in the best interests of the child.

Parents must usually also provide health insurance for their children. To enforce this, the DHSS may issue a Medical Support Notice, which requires an employer to add your children to their health insurance plan and to deduct the cost from your wages.

If you are unemployed and owe child support, the DHHS can take up to 65 percent of your unemployment insurance check — but a set of rules do restrict the measures that can be taken against you.

If you cannot afford any of the measures ordered by the DHHS, you will need to appeal the decision and this may be most effectively done with legal assistance from a child support lawyer.

You may be able to contest a notice due to a dispute over the amount of the debt, the exemption of certain property, your TANF or SSI status or another reason.

Is any of my income protected from child support collection?

Certain income is protected and cannot be collected by the DHHS in Maine. This includes:

  • Public assistance like TANF, SSI, SNAP (Food Stamps) and General Assistance
  • Money received as child support for other children in your household

Any individual in receipt of TANF or SSI is not required to pay child support while that assistance continues to be paid — even if back support payments are owed.

However, if you receive a lump sum of money during the time you receive benefits, such as a  personal injury settlement or an inheritance, this is considered “fair game” for the DHHS to collect. If you are expecting such a payment, it’s a good idea to seek legal assistance to check your position.

Unless you now live with a child you once paid support for, the DHHS can take up to 50 percent of your disposable weekly income in child support — even if you’re supporting a spouse or another dependent child in your household. If you’re not supporting others, the potential figure rises to 60 percent.

Bear in mind that if you are 12 weeks or more behind with child support payments, the amount the DHHS can take increases to 55 percent of your disposable income. If you’re not supporting others, this figure again rises to 65 percent.

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What property can the DHHS take from me?

If the required amount cannot be taken from your wages or disposable income, the DHHS may place liens on property that you own preventing you from selling it or using it as collateral on a loan.

The department can even attempt to foreclose on liens though there are limits to how far it can go as some property is considered “protected” and, therefore, exempt from inclusion in child support-related matters.

What is “protected” property?

The DHHS cannot include the following types of property in “seize and sell” liens:

  • $47,500 of equity in your home
  • Equity in one motor vehicle (up to $5,000)
  • Equity in household items (e.g., furniture, appliances, books, etc.)up to $200 in value per item
  • Up to $5,000 in value in tools, materials and equipment necessary for a trade/business
  • Furnaces or stoves used for heating, one cooking stove and fuel
  • Six-month food supply or seeds/gardening equipment necessary to grow food
  • Farm equipment required to farm commercially
  • A commercial fishing boat weighing less than five tons
  • Prescription health aids
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Can I get my child support order changed?

If your circumstances change substantially, you can apply to the court to have your child support order modified by filing a “Motion to Modify”.

However, you cannot simply stop payments or start paying less without a court order approving the change. A verbal agreement from the other parent will not protect you legally — and you could still be held liable for the debt.

Also, note that any new amount of support ordered by the court starts from the date of the order and does not affect past debts.

Substantial changes include a job loss or demotion or the other parent receiving a significant pay rise. Another qualifying change would be if one or all of the children you pay support for come to live with you.

Can I go to jail for not paying child support?

Jail time is very rare for nonpayers of child support in Maine but it is a last-resort option for judges in extreme cases.

The DHHS is focused on enforcing payments rather than taking out civil contempt proceedings against nonpayers.

Accordingly, if you are more than 30 days behind in child support, the DHSS  may begin to withhold wages and after 60 days, your licenses, including occupational and driver’s licenses, may be suspended.

The threat of being held in contempt by the child’s custodial parent remains for nonpayers of support, however. This could lead to a court hearing at which possible sanctions include jail time as well as fines.

If you need any assistance with a legal matter involving child support, contact an experienced child support attorney at The Maine Divorce Group.

Call 207-230-6884 or contact us online to schedule a consult with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys today.

We serve many clients, just like you, across Maine in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, & Lincoln Counties.


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Divorce is a highly emotional and stressful experience for most people. But you don’t have to face this challenge alone. Having a strong divorce attorney in your corner can help ensure that you and your children walk away from this process with the best opportunities available for future success and happiness.