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How to File a Lawsuit for Unpaid Child Support

Proceedings for divorce, child custody, and child support can be incredibly stressful without having to then enforce child support obligations. However, the spouse with the obligation to pay may fall behind on payments. You are entitled to file a lawsuit for unpaid child support, but you’ll want an experienced family law attorney by your side. These cases are often complex, and specific laws in Illinois govern child support. A skilled child support lawyer will help you enforce your court order.

Who Is Entitled to Child Support?

Illinois recognizes every child’s right to receive financial support from both parents. Typically, the noncustodial parent will pay child support to the custodial parent, but the Illinois guidelines were altered in 2017. A new law stated that child support payments were no longer solely based on the noncustodial parent’s income. The courts now consider both parents’ net incomes and each parent’s level of parental responsibility and parenting time with the children. This does not change the reality that if the noncustodial parent has income, the parent with custody will be entitled to some level of child support.

How Long Must a Parent Pay Child Support?

Child support orders in Illinois are generally viable until the child reaches the age of 18. An exception is made for a child who is still in high school at the age of 18. In such a case, child support will continue until the child graduates and turns 19. In many child support orders, automatic termination dates are included. 

One common question is, “Does child support include college expenses?” Child support does not always end once a child turns 18 and graduates from high school. If the child attends college, the custodial parent may need to engage a family law attorney to petition for related educational expenses, including college tuition, books, housing, and other expenses. This is called non-minor child support, and it is awarded by Illinois courts on a case-by-case- basis.

How Do You Get an Order for Child Support?

A child support order may be entered during or after a divorce, and either parent may be ordered to pay support depending on the custody arrangement and the parents’ financial resources. In Illinois, an unmarried mother generally files a petition for child support in family court. In such a case, paternity will need to be legally established before an order for support may be entered. If the man doesn’t acknowledge that he’s the father, a DNA paternity test may be required.

How Do You Enforce a Child Support Order?

Suppose the noncustodial parent falls behind on his or her child support payments. In that case, the custodial parent should attempt to resolve the issue directly with the other parent before resorting to outside intervention.  If that does not resolve the issue, however, the custodial parent can contact the Illinois Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) to report the overdue payment(s). Should a noncustodial parent fall behind, DCSS can choose one or more of the following methods to extract payment:

  • Garnish bank accounts, seize assets, and deduct income from paychecks.
  • Get a lien against a noncustodial parent’s house or land. 
  • Engage private collection agencies to collect child support obligations.
  • Intercept state and federal tax refunds.
  • Refer cases to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which has the authority to withhold a portion of certain federal benefits from parents who’ve fallen behind on payments. 

Individuals can hire an experienced family law attorney to work with DCSS and help pursue administrative remedies.

Can You Sue for Unpaid Child Support?

Many times, custodial parents choose to bypass DCSS because the system is backlogged, and it takes too much time to receive their payments. Because the court process begins with the filing of various petitions and motions and involves an eventual court date, it is recommended that you hire an experienced Illinois child support lawyer. A parent in Illinois who violates a court order is considered to be in contempt of court, and the offense is taken seriously. Custodial parents in Illinois can also collect 9% interest per year on past-due payments based on a court order.

How to File a Lawsuit for Unpaid Child Support in Illinois

An experienced Illinois Child Support lawyer will generally do the following to file a lawsuit for unpaid child support:

  • File a Petition for Rule to Show Cause with the circuit court.
  • File a Notice of Motion to inform the other party of the filing and the court date.
  • File the forms online through your appropriate circuit court’s website; this is likely in the county where you reside.
  • After filing, then notify the other parent by sending him or her a copy of the Petition and Notice.
  • If the judge requires you to complete a Financial Affidavit before the court hearing, your lawyer will help you properly fill out the forms requesting information about your income, assets, property, debts, and monthly expenses—which will serve as evidence.

How Can I Modify Child Support in Illinois?

A child support order specifies the amount and frequency that the noncustodial parent must pay and is enforced through a court order. There is no way to change one’s child support obligation without obtaining a new court order. Child support does not automatically change because someone loses their job or has a change in income. Child support is altered by filing a Motion to Modify Child Support and demonstrating a “substantial change” to reduce or increase the child support amount. 

There has been tremendous activity in modifying child support due to Covid-19. Many residents have experienced significant income loss, reduced work hours, or unemployment as a result of COVID-19. Because of this uptick in modifications, many people are working with experienced Illinois Child Support lawyers to get their child support orders adjusted to reflect Covid-related income changes.

Sad father hugging little daughter before leaving for long business trip, upset dad embracing crying girl

He helps clients resolve issues relating to family law, including divorce, parenting time and parental responsibilities, paternity, and child support. As a skilled real estate attorney as well, Scott also provides advice and legal representation to clients who are purchasing or selling residential or commercial property in Illinois.

Years of Experience: Approx. 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illiois Courts Northern District of Illinois Federal Courts Illinois State Bar Association Chicago Bar Association

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