Parents quarreling in front of child. Child Support

The divorce is finalized, and child support has been awarded to the custodial parent. For many, it’s a moment that brings great relief as it means that there will be money to buy groceries, pay utilities, cover education expenses, and provide housing to children following the divorce. Then, the waiting begins. Sometimes, non-custodial parents choose not to pay their child support obligations. This can leave custodial parents struggling to make ends meet each month. Unfortunately, it’s a common scenario and there are nearly 500,000 cases of back child support owed to over 517,000 children in Illinois. It’s a considerable problem and the state has stepped up enforcement efforts to help.

Calculating Child Support

The state’s formula for calculating child support is relatively simple. The state requires non-custodial parents to pay 20% of their net income for the first child. This rate increases to 28% for two children, 32% for three children, and 40% for four children. The purpose of these rates is to ensure that the child’s physical and emotional quality of life is protected after the divorce. In Illinois, parents are obligated to pay child support until the child turns 18, or graduates high school. The court may also award child support to be extended after these milestones should the child be disabled or otherwise incapable of supporting themselves.

These rates are calculated from all sources of income, including earned and unearned sources. Thus, wages, commissions, investments, social security payments, etc. are all factored into the equation. The court can order child support even if the non-custodial parent is unemployed, or underemployed. If the court believes the parent has the ability to earn an income, they may base their final calculation on imputed income, or, the income a parent has the potential to earn based on their most recent employment.

Enforcing Child Support Orders Through the Courts

There are many methods the state can use to ensure that owed child support is paid to the custodial parent. Regardless of whether a child support award was granted through the judicial system, or via administrative orders issued by Illinois Child Support Services. In either case, the support orders need to be registered with the circuit court prior to commencement of any enforcement proceedings. Once registered, the court has numerous tools at their disposal to collect owed child support, including:

  • Diverting state and federal tax refunds to custodial parents
  • Garnishing wages
  • Liens against property

Additionally, the state can also exert pressure to force the non-custodial parent to pay by suspending or revoking a driver’s license, denying a US passport if they owe $2,500 or more, or listing their name on the Illinois “Deadbeat Parent” website if they owe $5,000 or more in unpaid child support. The courts may also freeze bank accounts, issue a contempt order, or send the parent to jail until they have satisfied their debt.

In many cases of owed child support, the debt is satisfied over time via wage garnishments. When the court orders garnishment of a non-custodial parent’s wages, their employer is alerted via a notification of Income Withholding for Support. Within 14 days of having this letter mailed, faxed, or served to an employer, they are required to take the ordered amount out of the non-custodial parent’s paycheck. These funds are sent to the State Disbursement Unit and then forwarded to the custodial parent. If the individual is self-employed, they will receive a billing statement along with options to pay which include paying by phone, or via the internet. In both cases, the calculation for garnishment will include interest which in Illinois accrues at the rate of 9% per year on the amount owed.

Out of State Collection

Non-custodial parents cannot get out of their child support obligation by crossing state lines. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act requires courts throughout the country to defer to the child support orders entered in the state which granted them. The local court in Illinois has continuing exclusive jurisdiction in this regard, and the law of the State of Illinois is the only law that may be applied regardless of where the non-custodial parent may reside. As such, it is not possible for a non-custodial parent to request a modification or reduction in an out-of-state court that may have more lenient laws than Illinois. Further, child support obligations cannot be discharged via bankruptcy proceedings.

As with all collections, the first step is for the custodial parent’s Chicago child support attorney to send a letter to the non-custodial parent informing them of the past-due amount and providing them a time period to make payment. When a non-custodial parent has crossed state lines, the custodial parent and their attorney need to work with the Office of the Attorney General in order to track down deadbeat parents and enforce administrative child support orders.