Deadbeat Or Dead Broke? Enforcing Child Support Orders In Minnesota

Both biological parents are legally required to financially support their children. Unfortunately, that does not always happen, and many custodial parents struggle to receive court ordered child support payments.

Whether these payments are withheld due to an avoidance or inability to pay can be a contentious issue. The current recession has clearly taken a toll on the ability of many parents to afford these payments. However, instead of amending the orders with a child support modification to make them more manageable, some parents are simply not paying.

In some counties, if a parent was behind on payments by five years, the case against that parent to receive the overdue payments could be dismissed. The state of Minnesota recently informed Hennepin County and others that this practice was inappropriate. As a result, these counties are now required to comply with the state's order even though county officials claim that "it's unlikely any parents awaiting payments in the reopened cases will see more money."

Inappropriate Child Support Payment Case Dismissals

Media attention led the state to look into allegations of inappropriate case closings. One report focused on a woman whose case was closed even though the father owed over $38,000 in unpaid child support.

After reviewing this case and finding it required further action, the state expanded the review and found over 500 other cases that were closed inappropriately. Overall, the state estimates a "collective total of $5.9 million still owed" in connection with these reopened cases, according to the Star Tribune.

The offending counties may have closed the cases based on fear of losing federal funding. The county receives funding based on the percentage of cases that receive payments. If cases remain dormant, they are considered unpaid and count against the county. This causes the percentage of paid cases to decrease and the likelihood of receiving federal funding is put into jeopardy.

The easiest way to avoid this: skew the data. The counties would categorize these payments as "uncollectible" and close the case against the offending parent. By inappropriately closing these cases, it appeared the county was meeting the percentage requirements. As a result, the county was able to receive funding.

Child Support Enforcement In Minnesota

Essentially, a custodial parent, or the parent with primary physical custody, has the right to receive financial assistance from the noncustodial parent. In Minnesota, the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services works to ensure that child support orders are followed.

Child support is calculated using both parents' income. Modifications are available for a variety of reasons, including a decrease of 20 percent or more in the parent's gross income.

If, instead of attempting to receive a modification, a parent chooses to stop making child support payments, the child support agency may take action to enforce the support order. Generally, the agency will contact the delinquent parent and provide notice that payments must be made before taking action.

If payments are not made after notification is received, the following penalties may apply:

  • Find delinquent parent in contempt of court
  • Issue criminal charges
  • Report missed payments to credit bureau
  • Levy funds from accounts
  • License suspension or student grant and passport denial

To be found in contempt of court, the parent must be at least three months behind in payments and not be following the payment agreement. If issued, the court may order a jail sentence unless support payments are received.

If previous contempt orders are present, the parent may be charged with criminal nonsupport. This can result in a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony charge based on the number of months the parent is past-due. If convicted, both fines and a prison sentence can result.

The agency can also report past-due payments to credit bureaus if the parent is over three months late. These reports will negatively impact the parent's credit score and make it difficult to find housing and receive loans. The agency may also be able to remove funds from the parent's accounts if the parent is five or more months overdue.

In addition to negatively impacting a parent's finances, the agency can suspend the offender's driver's license or any occupational license(s). This can impact lawyers, Realtors and barbers as well as many other professions.

If the parent is more than $2,500 behind, his or her passport can be denied, and if one month behind, a student grant can be denied. These are just a few of the many enforcement options available in Minnesota.

If you are struggling to receive child support order payments, remedies may be available. Contact an experienced Minneapolis child support lawyer to discuss your options.