Unclaimed Child Support Fund

States have collected Billions in court-ordered child support payments for distribution to custodial parents. Undistributed child support payments and checks that were sent but not cashed now totals over $750 million.

Many parents are forced to pay child support when a Court passes judgment on a defendant in a child support case. The money is paid to the court first and then goes to the care giving parent. Many times the money never reaches the parent and it ends up becoming unclaimed funds of the State. It sits there until the rightful owner comes forward to claim these unclaimed support funds.

Federal legislation requires States to create a regulation on how to handle unclaimed child support payments in which the parent can't be located. In many states unclaimed child support may be used to balance State budget or cover administrative costs.

A major impetus to collection of child support in many places is recovery of welfare expenditure. A resident or custodial parent receiving public assistance is required to assign his or her right to child support to the Department of Welfare before cash assistance is received. Another common requirement of welfare benefits in some jurisdictions is that a custodial parent must pursue child support from the non-custodial parent.

It is estimated that 50% of all child support arrears are owed to the government to reimburse welfare expenses. Half of U.S. states pass along none of the child support they collect to low-income families receiving welfare and other assistance, instead reimbursing themselves and the federal government.

In some jurisdictions, obligors (paying parents) are required to remit their payments to the governing federal or state child support enforcement agency. The payments are recorded, any portion required to reimburse the government is subtracted, and then the remainder is passed on to the obligee (receiving parent), either through direct deposit or checks.

The first payee for child support depends on the current welfare status of the payee. For example, if the obligee is currently receiving a monthly check from the government, all current support collected during said month is paid to the government to reimburse the monies paid to the obligee. Regarding families formerly on assistance, current support is paid to the family first, and only after said support is received, the government may then collect additional payments to reimburse itself for previously paid assistance to the obligee (receiving parent).

"Dead-beat" Parents

In respect to child support obligations, a dead-beat parent is one who has refused to provide child support payments or expenses. As an informal term, this is often extended to obligors who are willing but unable to pay; governmental child support agencies typically refer to clients as being in compliance, not in compliance or criminally non-compliant. Compliance is judged by the paying party's performance in meeting the terms of the legal child support court order. In some circumstances, obligors found "not in compliance" or "criminally non-compliant" have even had their professional (e.g. doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc.) and driver's licenses suspended or revoked in an effort to collect monies for support and shared expenses.

Enforcement

Child support enforcement is generally handled largely at the state level, but non compliant parents who meet certain criteria, such as traveling across state lines to circumvent orders or owing more than two years of support payments, may be subjected to federal prosecution under the Federal Deadbeat Punishment Act.

Consequences of non-payment vary by jurisdiction, the length of time the parent has been noncompliant, and the amount owed. Typical penalties include wage garnishment and denial or suspension of drivers, hunting and professional licenses. Noncompliant parents who are more than $2500 in arrears may be denied passports under the Passport Denial Program.

Collection tools available include Federal Income Tax Refund Offset, which redistributes income tax refunds due delinquent parents to custodial parents.

Duration of Support Orders

The duration of support orders varies both by jurisdiction and by case. Requirements for support typically end when the child reaches the age of majority, which may range in age from 16 to 21 or graduates from high school. Some states have provisions that allow support to continue past the age of majority if the child is enrolled as a full-time, degree-seeking post-secondary student. If the obligor owes back child support, they must continue to make payments until the debt is satisfied, regardless of the age of the child.

Several circumstances exist which allow for the termination of a support order for a child under the age of majority. These include the child's marriage, legal emancipation or death.

Court Procedures

In divorce cases, child support payments may be determined as part of the divorce settlement, along with other issues, such as alimony, custody and visitation. In other cases, there are several steps that must be undertaken to receive court-ordered child support. Some parents anticipating that they will receive child support may hire lawyers to oversee their child support cases for them; others may file their own applications in their local courthouses.

While procedures vary by jurisdiction, the process of filing a motion for court ordered child support typically has several basic steps.

  1. One parent, or his or her or her attorney, must appear at the local magistrate or courthouse to file an application or complaint for the establishment of child support. The information required varies by jurisdiction, but generally collects identifying data about both parents and the child(ren) involved in the case, including their names, social security or tax identification numbers and dates of birth. Parents may also be required to furnish details relating to their marriage and divorce, if applicable, as well as documents certifying the identity and parentage of the child(ren). Local jurisdictions may charge fees for filing such applications, however, if the filing parent is receiving any sort of public assistance, these fees may be waived.
  2. The other parent is located, and served a court summons by a local sheriff, police officer, or process server. The summons informs the other parent that they are being sued for child support. Once served, the other parent must attend a mandatory court hearing to determine if they are responsible for child support payments.
  3. In cases where parentage of a child is denied, has not been established by marriage or is not listed on the birth certificate, or where paternity fraud is suspected, courts may order or require establishment of paternity. Paternity may be established voluntarily if the father signs an affidavit or may be proven through DNA testing in contested cases. Once the identity of the father is confirmed through DNA testing, the child's birth certificate may be amended to include the father's name.
  4. After the responsibility for child support is established and questions of paternity have been answered to the court's satisfaction, the court will notify the obligor and order that parent to make timely child support payments and establish any other provisions, such as medical orders.

Calculating the Amount

Various approaches to calculating the amount of child support award payments exist. Many jurisdictions consider multiple sources of information when determining support, taking into account the income of the parents, the number and ages of children living in the home, basic living expenses and school fees. If the child has special needs, such as treatment for a serious illness or disability, these costs may also be taken into consideration.

Guidelines for support orders may be based on laws that require obligors to pay a flat percentage of their annual income toward their children's expenses. Often two approaches are combined. In the United States, the federal government requires all states to have guideline calculations that can be verified and certified. These are usually computer programs based upon certain financial information including, earnings, visitation, taxes, insurance costs, and several other factors.

Most U.S. states deliver child support benefits through direct deposit, but many states make payments to recipients who do not have a bank account through a prepaid debit card. State use of prepaid cards has helped increase the popularity of federal benefit debit cards.

Use of Child Support Payments

Support monies collected are expected to be used for the child's expenses, including food, clothing, and educational needs. They are not meant to be used as "spending money" for the child.[9] Courts have held that it is unacceptable for child support payments to be used to directly benefit the custodial parent.

Child support orders may earmark funds for specific items for the child, such as school fees, day care, and medical expenses. In some cases, obligors parents may pay for these items directly. For example, they may pay tuition fees directly to their child's school, rather than remitting money for the tuition to the obligee. Orders may also require each parent to assume a percentage of expenses for various needs.

Many American universities also consider non-custodial parents partially responsible for paying college costs, and will consider parents' income in their financial aid determinations. In certain states, non-custodial parents may be ordered by the court to assist with these expenses.

In the United States, obligors may receive a medical order that requires them to add their children to their health insurance plans. In some states both parents are responsible for providing medical insurance for the child/children. If both parents possess health coverage, the child may be added to the more beneficial plan, or use one to supplement the other. Children of active or retired members of the U.S. armed forces are also eligible for health coverage as military dependents, and may be enrolled in the DEERS program at no cost to the obligor.

In family law and public policy, child support is an ongoing, periodic payment made by a parent for the financial benefit of a child following the end of a marriage or other relationship. Child maintenance is paid directly or indirectly by an obligor to an obligee for the care and support of children of a relationship that has been terminated, or in some cases never existed. Often the obligor is a non-custodial parent. The obligee is typically a custodial parent, a caregiver, a guardian, or the state.

Depending on the jurisdiction, a custodial parent may pay child support to a non-custodial parent. Typically one has the same duty to pay child support irrespective of sex, so a mother is required to pay support to a father just as a father must pay a mother. Where there is joint custody, the child is considered to have two custodial parents and no non-custodial parents, and a custodial parent with a higher income (obligor) may be required to pay the other custodial parent (obligee).

In family law, child support is often arranged as part of a divorce, marital separation, dissolution of marriage, annulment, determination of parentage or dissolution of a civil union and may supplement alimony (spousal support) arrangements.

Child support is based on the policy that both parents are obliged to financially support their children, even when the children are not living with both parents. Child support includes the financial support of children and not other forms of support, such as emotional support, intellectual support, physical care, or spiritual support.

When children live with both parents, courts rarely, if ever direct the parents how to provide financial support for their children. However, when the parents are not together, courts often order one parent to pay the other an amount set as financial support of the child. In such situations, one parent (the obligee) receives child support, and the other parent (the obligor) is ordered to pay child support. The amount of child support may be set on a case-by-case basis or by a formula estimating the amount thought that parents should pay to financially support their children.

Child support may be ordered to be paid by one parent to another when one is a non-custodial parent and the other is a custodial parent. Similarly, child support may also be ordered to be paid by one parent to another when both parents are custodial parents (joint or shared custody) and they share the child-raising responsibilities. In some cases, a parent with sole custody of his or her children may even be ordered to pay child support to the non-custodial parent to support the children while they are in the care of that parent.

Child support paid by a non-custodial parent or obligor, does not absolve the obligor of the responsibility for costs associated with their child staying with the obligor in their home during visitation. For example, if an obligor pays child support to an obligee, this does not mean that the obligee is responsible for food, shelter, furniture, toiletries, clothes, toys or games, or any of the other child expenses directly associated with the child staying with the non-custodial parent or obligor.

In most jurisdictions there is no need for the parents to be married, and only paternity and/or maternity (filiation) need to be demonstrated for a child support obligation to be found by a competent court. Child support may also operate through the principle of estoppel where a de facto parent that is in loco parentis for a sufficient time to establish a permanent parental relationship with the child or children.

Child Support vs. Contact

While the issues of child support and visitation or contact may settlement, in most jurisdictions the two rights and obligations are completely separate and individually enforceable. Custodial parents may not withhold contact to "punish" a noncustodial parent for failing to pay some or all child support required. Conversely, a noncustodial parent is required to pay child support even if they are partially or fully denied contact with the child.

Additionally, a non-custodial parent is responsible for child support payments even if they do not wish to have a relationship with the child. Courts have maintained that a child's right to financial support from parents supersedes an adult's wish not to assume a parenting role.

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