To become eligible to enforce the payment of child support, you must obtain a court order issued on the basis of a divorce, dissolution, establishment of paternity, legal separation, or parental responsibility. In New York State, parents are liable under the law to provide child support until their child turns at least 18 years of age.
In some states, including Pennsylvania, the minimum amount of child support awarded by a court is based on a fixed percentage of the combined parental income and the number of children which support will be provided for. In Pennsylvania, support awards are usually determined by the following formula:
1 Child = 17% of the combined parental income.
2 Children = 25% of the combined parental income.
3 Children = 29% of the combined parental income.
4 Children = 31% of the combined parental income.
5 + Children = at least 35% of combined parental income.
The following factors will be considered by a court when determining the amount of child support to be awarded:
Government Operated Child Support Enforcement Agencies
- The financial resources of the custodial and non-custodial parent, and those of the child;
- The physical and emotional health of the child and his/her special needs;
- The standard of living the child enjoyed when the parents were married;
- The tax consequences to the parties;
- The non-monetary contributions that the parents will make toward the care and well-being of the child;
- The educational needs of either parent;
- Whether one parent’s gross income is substantially greater than the other parent’s gross income;
- The needs of the other children of the non-custodial parent who are not involved in the child support action when the money available to support the other children is less than that available to support the children in the support action;
- If the child is not on public assistance, the court will consider extraordinary expenses incurred by the non-custodial parent when visiting the child or expenses incurred by the non-custodial parent due to extended visits if the custodial parent’s expenses are substantially reduced during that period of time;
- Any other factors the court considers as relevant.
Every state has a child support enforcement program which is federally funded and required under the Social Security Act to locate absent, non-custodial parents, establish paternity, and enforce child support obligations. In New York, the State Office of Child Support Enforcement supervises the operations of the Child Support Enforcement Unit (CSEU) and the Support Collection Unit (SCU) which are both responsible for providing child support collection services. These services include the above mentioned services as well as obtaining a support order from a court, reviewing and changing your support order if needed, obtaining health insurance for the child if necessary, and taking any of these actions across state lines. Services may be requested directly from either unit in the county in which you reside (in Pennsylvania, contact the Support Collection Unit at the Family Court in your borough or township).
Any custodial parent or guardian is eligible for these services. If you are a public assistance client, these services will be provided automatically. If you do no receive public assistance, you must request and complete an application.
You must have a court order to enforce the payment of child support. If you do not have a court order, the CSEU or the SCU will help you obtain one. After a court order has been issued, the CSEU or the SCU will attempt to enforce the collection of any child support payments which have not been received as well as attempt to enforce future payments.
The CSEU and SCU will also attempt to locate the non-custodial parent and establish paternity. To assist these agencies, the custodial parent should supply as much information as possible about the non-custodial parent. The social security number is one of the most valuable pieces of information which can be provided. It can usually be found on old documents such as pay stubs, medical bills, tax returns, some bank statements, and military records. If the social security number is not available, try to provide other information about the non-custodial parent which may include, Department of Motor Vehicle records, parents’ names, the last known home or work address and phone number of the non-custodial parent, the addresses and phone numbers of relatives or recent photographs.
Once the non-custodial parent is located, some of the techniques used to enforce child support payments may include wage withholdings and liens against assets.
Depending upon the state, the maximum application fee charged to obtain child support services is $25. Some states, including Pennsylvania, do not charge an application fee. States are also allowed to charge for the cost of providing services. Pennsylvania does not charge fees except for legal assistance provided in court. These fees vary depending upon the amount of time spent on the case in court.
In Pennsylvania, legal fees are not required to be paid for in advance. Repayment of legal fees is made over a period of time by deducting a percentage from each child support payment until the total fee is paid. No other deductions will be made. The Office of Child Support Enforcement suggests that the non-custodial parent should apply for legal assistance before filing a petition for a court order.
In Pennsylvania, information may be obtained by contacting your local district CSEU/SCU or the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement Regional Representative at: Federal Building, Room 4048, 26 Federal Plaza, New York, NY 10278 or by calling 212-264-7170. You may also contact the Pennsylvania Office of Child Support Enforcement; Department of Social Services at 877-727-7238 or contact the Social Services Department or Human Resources Administration in your area. Interstate Child Support Enforcement
Enforcing child support payments across state lines is more difficult than enforcing child support payments when all parties live in New York. However, it can be done. State enforcement agencies work together in trying to enforce such payments across state lines. In January of 1998 the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) was enacted. Under this Act, the first state to retain a court order is the state that will continue to have jurisdiction (legal authority) over the case as long as one of the parties continues to reside in the state or if both parties agree to transfer jurisdiction to another state. This act ensures that only one valid support order exists since there is more than one state involved. Attorneys and Self-Representation
You may elect to hire a private attorney who is paid according to an hourly rate or receives a percentage of what is collected based on the required fee. An attorney can perform various services including representation.
You may also contact your local Bar Association or Legal Aid Society if you cannot afford a private attorney. These attorneys will also represent you in a court hearing and request enforcement of the original court order, obtain wage withholdings and judgments against assets.
As another option, the law allows you to represent yourself in family court. Self-representation also allows you the right to request enforcement of the original court order, wage withholdings and judgments against assets.
If you decide to represent yourself in court, become familiar with your legal rights as a custodial parent. For an introduction to your legal rights and the steps you should take when attempting to enforce child support payments, you can contact the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support Inc. (ACES), at 2260 Upton Avenue, Toledo, OH, 43606. ACES is a not-for-profit national organization that provides educational information about collecting child support. You can visit their website at www.childsupport-aces.org or call their information toll-free hotline at 1-800-738-ACES for information as well. Private For-Profit Child Support Enforcement Agencies
Other types of agencies which advertise child support enforcement services are privately owned companies which are not generally regulated by authorities. Some states do require a collection license, but this requirement varies from state to state. A collection license is not required in New York State unless the agency offers general collection services in addition to child support collection services. Before using one of these agencies, find out if the agency is required to have a collection license.
Private companies generally advertise that their collection methods are less expensive than hiring an attorney and faster than using family court. However, consumers should be aware that no legal assistance or advice is included in this service. You will still have to obtain a court order and you are responsible for any legal expenses which may be incurred. By signing a contract, you have only given them the "Power of Attorney" to locate the non-custodial parent and enforce child support payments.
The agency receives payment for its services by collecting the child support payments directly and deducting a percentage of the amount received. There are no regulatory guidelines which determine a minimum or maximum percentage that an agency can charge. Many agencies charge 25% – 30 % of the money that is recovered. In many cases, a deduction is made for the duration that your child is eligible to receive support. Some agencies may even charge an application fee and a processing fee to assist you with filing a court order.
Some agencies that advertise child support collection services do not provide the actual services. After receiving an application fee, they may refer you to a general collection agency. Once again, find out if a collection license is required in that state.
The BBB advises consumers to ask the following questions before signing a contract with a child support enforcement service:
- How long have you been in business?
- Where are you located – What is your physical address?
- Does the agency locate the non-custodial parent, or will it refer your case to a collection agency?
- Is the agency required to be licensed?
- Is there an initial application or filing fee? If so, how much?
- Is there a refund policy for the application or filing fee if the agency is unable to locate the non-custodial parent?
- Can the contract be canceled? If so, what are the cancellation requirements?
- What percentage will be deducted from each child support payment and for how long?
- Are you liable for legal expenses incurred by the agency on your behalf?
- If the non-custodial parent relocates without informing you, are you required to use the agency's services again to locate that parent, or can you choose another alternative?
- How often can I get updates on the status of my case?
- Do you initiate legal action against the non-custodial parent and under what circumstances?
- When you receive money for me – how long does it take for you to disburse the money to me?
With a few exceptions, (see above 1,4,11,12), all of the above information should be stipulated in the contract. However, do not take this for granted. Review the contract carefully. If it does not answer the above questions, ask the agency to respond in writing.