Child Support Laws on Back Payments in Michigan
By Beverly Bird
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Michigan makes it hard for non-custodial parents to fall behind in their child support obligations because most child support orders include mandatory income withholding provisions. Under this system, your employer deducts your support payments from your paychecks and sends the money to the state's child support collection unit. The unit then sends the money to your child’s other parent. However, some parents have been divorced for some time so their decrees predate the income withholding requirements. Others are self-employed, so income withholding may not work. If you fall too far behind in your payments, Michigan’s Friend of the Court (FOC) will attempt to collect from you.
Tax Refund Offset Program
If your child’s household is receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, Michigan's Friend of the Court will get involved as soon as you’re $150 behind in your support obligation. Michigan’s Friend of the Court is part of the state’s circuit court family division and the office monitors such things as support collection. The FOC works in tandem with the IRS and the Michigan Department of Treasury to intercept your tax refunds when your back payments exceed the statutory limit. If your family is not receiving TANF, you can fall up to $500 behind before the FOC will intercept your federal or state refund.
Under Michigan law, if you owe back child support and if you’re paying through state services, this creates an automatic lien against any real estate you own and your personal property, such as motor vehicles, if you fall behind. The FOC has the power to “perfect” these liens by notifying your county’s deed recorder or the Department of Motor Vehicles, such that you would not be able to sell your property without paying your child support first. However, this generally won’t occur until you’re more than two months behind. The FOC can also place a lien against your bank account, seizing your past-due support and sending it to your child’s other parent. With permission from the court, it can force the sale of your property to collect on the lien if your back payments are significant.
Other Collection Measures
Like many states, Michigan law also authorizes the FOC to report your delinquency to credit bureaus when you fall more than two months behind. If your arrears -- your past due balance -- reaches $2,500 or more, the FOC will contact the U.S. State Department to deny you a passport if you apply for one. Michigan will also suspend your driver’s license if you owe more than two months’ worth of back payments.
As determined as Michigan is to collect past-due child support, the state is not without sympathy for parents who are going through tough economic times. The legislature allows you to file a motion with the court as soon as you begin accumulating arrears. You can request a payment plan to pay off your past-due balance. This generally protects you against enforcement measures by the FOC, but you would have to keep your regular payments current while you’re paying down your past-due balance.
- Michigan Courts: Using Property Liens to Collect Past-Due Support (PDF)
- Michigan Department of Human Services: Past Due Support Payment/Forgiveness Plan
- Branch County, Michigan: Understanding Child Support (PDF)
- Branch County, Michigan: Child Support Enforcement Tax Refund Offset Program (PDF)
- Michigan Courts: Michigan Friend of the Court System
Beverly Bird is a professional writer who is also a practicing paralegal in the areas of divorce and family law. She has offered community workshops for single parents, helping them with the financial and lifestyle issues they often face.