How to Find Out If You Owe Back Child Support
By Fraser Sherman
Updated December 17, 2018
It's very unlikely that you owe child support and don't know it. Federal and state governments use a variety of methods to track and locate noncustodial parents, and they're very good at it. If you have somehow slipped through the cracks, simply checking with the appropriate state government should provide answers.
Income withholding for child support is required in just about all states these days. This means that if you work for an employer and you have a child support order, the employer can and probably will be ordered to automatically withhold child support from your pay. The order can come from the court, an attorney, or a state agency.
The money is sent directly to the state child support enforcement or disbursement unit when an employer withholds child support. This usually happens within seven business days of the date you receive your paycheck, although the exact time can depend on state laws and procedures.
Most states will require that you pay child support through their child support enforcement or distribution unit even if you're not subject to income withholding. The agency will keep track of your payments and should more or less become aware immediately if you fall behind. The unit should then step in and take steps to collect the past due payments before your child support debt gets out of hand.
State And Government Databases
State governments record both parents' Social Security numbers in a database when a child is born. If one parent ups and leaves, even to another state, the odds are she'll be found again. Employers across the country report new employees to their state's child-support enforcement agencies. Those agencies then correlate the names and numbers with a central national database.
Even if you don't know you're a parent, the chance is very high that you'll find out when the government locates you. States and the federal government work together so that child support enforcement efforts can cross state boundaries. They can take steps to collect, such as by garnishing wages or seizing an income-tax refund, when they find a missing parent and that parent doesn't take steps to pay up voluntarily.
Even if you've moved out of the country, many nations work with the U.S. to collect child-support debts. American companies operating abroad might be involved if you're working as an employee. There's a higher chance of you dropping off the radar overseas, however, particularly if the custodial parent doesn't know where you are. The more information he has about your location, the easier it is for the government to find you.
Finding Out Yourself
If you haven't been notified about child support but you want to double check, you can easily do so. Go to the state's child-support enforcement website. Some states post photographs of delinquent parents online, and some local governments do so as well.
Go online to the county courthouse. Use your name or the other parent's name to find out if any child-support actions have been filed. Check to see if the state department governing child support has the information online. For example, New York's website is set up to allow noncustodial parents to check the balance of their child support debts.
Locating the Parent
You can try to locate the other parent if you don't know which state to search. Reach out to friends or family and for contact information. You can also use any of the many online services, some of them free, that reveal personal information about an individual. Even using Google might be sufficient to find him. And don't overlook social media.
You're not necessarily looking to contact the other parent. You just need to learn where he's living so you can search that state's databases for any history of child support court proceedings.
Dealing With the Debt
You might have a lot of debt to pay off if your missed child support payments have been accumulating for a while. The state's child support enforcement unit can freeze your bank account or seize real estate or other property you own to settle the arrears. Even bankruptcy won't wipe out child support debts, although it might make paying support easier by erasing other debts.
Many state departments hold child support amnesty months that enable parents with outstanding civil warrants to avoid going to court if they make a payment arrangement for the child support arrears. These programs are certainly useful, but if you genuinely want to support your child, the best thing you can do is pay off the debt while keeping up current payments.
If something has changed since your child support order went into effect, such as job loss or illness, and if you can prove those circumstances, you can also go back to court to ask that your support payments be reduced, at least temporarily until the situation is resolved. This might help you keep current.
- Massachusetts Department of Revenue: Parent to Pay Lives in Another State or Outside of the United States
- Nolo: Government Efforts to Collect Child Support
- New York State: Find the Status of Your Child Support Payment or Balance Online
- Findlaw: Enforcement and Collection of Back Child Support
- Patriot Software: What Does An Income Withholding Order Mean?
- If you think you owe back child support, it is important that you look into the matter promptly. If you do not tend to the matter of past due child support, you can face serious sanctions. In some jurisdictions these penalties include jail time or loss of your driver's license.
A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.