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How Does Massachusetts Child Support Work?

Posted by Stephen McDonough | Dec 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

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Give me your money, arrrr!

If you are due unpaid child support in Massachusetts, you should be familiar with the numerous options for collecting the money to help support your child or children.

Administrative enforcement options are coordinated by the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR). If you are owed back child support, the best idea is to work with a qualified child support lawyer or family law attorney in Massachusetts.

Effective tools available to help collect past-due child support

1. Notice

Parents that owe past-due child support receive an Annual Notice of Child Support Delinquency.  The notices explains all of the enforcement remedies at the DOR's disposal, and informs the parent of the right to request a review of the amount owed.  “Big deal!” you may think to yourself.  That doesn't sound like much of an enforcement tool, right?  Keep reading to learn more about the actions that DOR may unleash on non-paying parents.

2. Income Withholding Order

Massachusetts law requires that child support orders include an income withholding clause.  Even if you do not see such language in your divorce or other agreement, it is still an option.

Other times, you may see language that refers to a “suspended wage assignment.” Even with such language, if someone is not paying their child support, income withholding remains an option once payments become 30 days past due, or either parent requests the withholding.  DOR obtains new hire information and quarterly wage info from employers and then issues income withholding orders (IWOs) to noncustodial parent's employers.

3. Income Levy

If a parent no longer owes current support but owes past-due support, DOR can issue an income levy to the payor's employer setting forth what is owed.

4. Administrative Increase of Support

If someone falls behind on their child support by paying less than required or by being late, the DOR can issue an IWO to the employer or to the parent increasing the child support obligation by 25%.  This increase remains in effect until any arrearage is paid in full.

5. Liens

Overdue child support is subjected to liens that encumber all real estate and personal property of the noncustodial parent.  If an interest in property is acquired by the payor after a lien is established, that property is also subject to the lien.

6. Bank Levy

This should not be confused with driving your Chevy to the levee.  If a parent owes more than $1,500.00 in overdue child support, or has not made a voluntary payment in the last six weeks, the DOR issues a Notice of Levy to a financial institution and attaches to all existing accounts, even joint accounts.

The levy is applied to any bank or financial institution in the US, and remains in effect until the past-due amount is collected or 60 days, whichever occurs first.

7. Federal Offset, Tax Refund Intercept, and Passport Denial

Looking forward to that tax refund followed by a nice vacation abroad? If you owe more than $150.00 in past due support, then you might just have a stay-cation instead.  Weekly, DOR submits data about “deadbeat” parents to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement's Federal Administrative Offset (FAO) Program.

This program includes the offset of federal salaries, retirement benefits, and vendor payments, the intercept of federal tax refunds, and denial of new renewal passport applications (for those owing more than $2,500.00 in back child support.

8.  State Tax Refund Intercept

If you owe more than $50.00, the MA DOR can help themselves to your overdue child support from your MA tax refund.

9. Unemployment Compensation Intercept

DOR and the DUA (Department of Unemployment Assistance) exchange information, and if a parent on unemployment owes back child support, the benefits are subject to withholding.

10.  Worker's Compensation – Benefit Withholding and Lien

If a non-custodial parent owes child support and is receiving worker's comp benefits, the benefits are subjected to withholding, and any lump-sum payment is subject to attachment through a lien. The noncustodial parent will not be able to settle the Worker's Comp claim without first satisfying the outstanding child support obligation.

11. License Suspension and Revocation of Motor Vehicle Registration

Ouch!  If a parent does not pay their child support, the commonwealth may suspend his or her driver's license and revoke their car registration.   Professional licenses are also subject to suspension.

12.  Monthly Credit Reporting

DOR submits info to the national credit reporting bureaus who owe past-due support of $1,500.00 or more.  Credit reports will show the payor's current status and total amount of back child support owed.

13. Insurance Claim Intercept

Before making any non-recurring payment of $500.00 or more, insurers must check with DOR to see if the claimant owes unpaid child support.  If support is owed, it must be paid to the DOR, but after deducting amounts owed to providers related to the insurance claim, such as medical providers and attorneys.

14. Interception of Public Pension

Before a pension board in MA can make a lump-sum distribution, the pension board must check with DOR to confirm if any back-child support is due.  If it is, the retiree has up to 60 days to pay it through other funds, otherwise the pension board must remit the amount to the DOR.

15. Hit the Jackpot?

The MA Lottery Commission also checks with DOR before making any lottery pay-out over $600.00, but local vendors are not required to check.

16.  Abandoned Property

DOR checks weekly with the State Treasurer's Abandoned Property Division (APD), and if determined that a parent owes back child support and has abandoned property, the property is subject to an offset.

As you can see, the DOR has many effective options available to help people get the child support they are owed.  Although you can work with DOR on your own without a Massachusetts family law lawyer, the DOR may charge you for some of their services.

Working with DOR is not the same as having your own child support lawyer, because DOR may handle your case differently than how you want, and they decide – not you – how to handle your case.  Of course, the caseload at DOR is high, and they may not be able to devote the individual attention to your case that your own lawyer will.

Contact us for help with your child support case. We're experienced with Massachusetts child support and can lead you to a successful outcome.

About the Author

Stephen McDonough

Stephen works closely with clients facing divorce or other family conflict. He is a certified mediator through the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation, a designation that only about 11% of mediators have obtained. In addition to providing mediation services, Stephen regularly appears in...

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