In every custody order entered in Missouri, a court (or sometimes an administrative agency) must compute a child support obligation for each parent, because Missouri, as with all states, requires both parents contribute to the financial needs of their child. However, not all parents pay their support obligations on time and develop arrearages – some that soon add up to thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars. If a parent fails to receive the child support owed, what options does the parent have for recovery of these sums?
First, the parent should not feel alone. The Family Support Division (FSD) of the Missouri Department of Social Services has the authority to oversee and collect child support for any order entered or registered in Missouri. In Fiscal Year 2017, FSD had 297,921 active cases with support orders. Of these, 60.48% had arrearages – an extraordinary number. So, if you are a parent owed back child support, you are actually in the majority, at least with cases run through FSD.
When a court enters a child support order in an original judgment, the court has the option of the parent paying voluntarily and directly to the recipient parent or to order the child support withheld automatically from the obligor’s paycheck. If a parent paying voluntarily gets behind in payments, the first step would be to seek a wage withholding order. If the recipient parent still receives less than owed, that parent should contact Child Support Enforcement and open an active case to see if their agency resources can secure regular garnishment.
When a parent with a support obligation develops an arrearage, it means the parent is paying less than the amount ordered by the judgment or support order, or the parent has paid nothing at all. The parent falling behind may have employment issues that need to be addressed, or the parent simply chooses to become voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. In other cases, the parent intentionally and without good cause decides not to pay what is owed.
At this point, what can a parent in need of the support do?
The parent has criminal and civil options.
Failure to pay child support is a crime. As set forth in Section 568.040 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, “A person commits the offense of nonsupport if he or she knowingly fails to provide adequate support…which such parent is legally obligated to provide for his or her child or stepchild who is not otherwise emancipated by operation of law.” The offense is a class A misdemeanor unless the total arrearage is in excess of an aggregate of twelve monthly payments due under any order of support, in which case it is a class E felony. A class A misdemeanor is punishable by a term not to exceed one year in prison. A class E felony is punishable by a term not to exceed four years in prison.
While putting a parent severely in arrears in prison is not the primary goal of the criminal nonsupport statute, it is often the hammer needed to make certain delinquent parents finally meet their obligation. Typically, when a criminal case is opened, the prosecuting attorney works with the delinquent parent to reach a result which will avoid a conviction if the offending parent stays on a consistent payment schedule. The threat of going to prison and having a felony conviction motivates many offenders to pay.
In our next post, we will discuss what options are available when a criminal case may not be available.
If you have questions about collecting child support, contact us – we can help.