Both parents are expected to support their children in New York. Generally, however, a non-custodial parent pays support to a child through the custodial parent. Many feel that child support is predicated on the idea that children should have the same lifestyle after a divorce as they had beforehand, which, as people transition from one household to two, is not always exactly possible. Child support, however, is not only applicable to divorcing parents.
When a non-custodial parent doesn’t pay court-ordered child support, there are numerous ways for the custodial parent or Support Collection Unit to enforce payments. If a parent is delinquent and owes back child support, that parent is considered to be in arrears. Unpaid arrears, that are reduced to judgment, accumulate interest even if you are paying child support currently.
For support orders entered after August 8, 1987, the Support Collection Unit or the other parent can require a delinquent parent to pay off arrears for 20 years from the date of default, regardless of whether that amount was reduced to a judgment. When arrears are reduced to a judgment, that judgment then is good for twenty years. The statute of limitations to enforce arrears for orders entered before that date is six years. Generally, child support obligations terminate automatically when a minor turns 21 years old, although there are instances when they continue, such as by agreement to pay beyond the age of 21 and payments of arrears can continue until the arrears are satisfied, but subject to the above statute of limitations.
When child support payments are made through the Office of Child Support Enforcement, abbreviated as OCSE, or the Support Collection Unit, the SCU, they are responsible for keeping accounts of how much child support has been collected and how much has been owed. When a parent falls behind in making payments, it has the authority to take action through administrative and automated processes. In fact, it may take multiple enforcement actions to collect the amount in arrears.
If you are a noncustodial parent with current child support orders, or you only owe arrears, you may be able to participate in an Arrears Credit Program (for arrears that are only owed to the Department of Social Services), which reduces the amount of arrears owed by $5,000 a year for three years. There are no income limits attached to qualification for this program, but you must make full payments on current child support for the whole year. A parent can visit OCSE to find out if he or she qualifies for the program.
When a parent falls into arrears, child support payments can be temporarily increased by 50% over the usual order amount, subject to certain maximums on how much can be taken from a noncustodial parent at any one time. Additionally, a tax refund can be sent to the SCU or OCSE rather than a delinquent parent, in order to pay off past due amounts. If you owe two months current child support and have arrears of at least $300, your bank account or other financial assets can be frozen and seized to make back payments.
Often, parents pay their child support through salary deductions, and if the balance becomes $3,000 or more, that parent’s bank account may be frozen. However, if the child support is not being paid through salary deductions, an account may be frozen if what is owed in arrears is at least $25.
A child support order is based on income information from the hearing. If the reason for your arrearages is a downward adjustment in income or a loss of employment that constitutes a substantial change in circumstances, you should be aware that you can file a petition in Family Court to modify the child support order.
Under current law, the default rule is that you can request a modification if three years have passed since the last order was passed, modified, or adjusted, there’s been an involuntary change in your income by at least 15%, or you’ve been incarcerated for reasons other than nonpayment of child support or an offense against the child or custodial parent, or there has otherwise been a substantial change of circumstances. However, under Domestic Relations Law §236 (B)(9)(b)(2), child support arrears that accrue prior to your request for a modification cannot be reduced or annulled.
If you need to modify a child support order in New York, contact the Law and Mediation Office of Darren M. Shapiro at 516-333-6555 or via our online form. Our principal, Darren Shapiro, is an experienced, compassionate family law attorney and mediator.
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