Missed Child Support Payments
An obligor must report a change in income or job to the Child Support Officer within ten days. Unless the obligor gets a new court order modifying the existing child support order, the payments will build up. The obligor who misses payments will be subject to the following penalties or garnishments:
- Garnishments from Unemployment Checks — If the obligor gets unemployment checks, the Department of Economic and Employment Development will probably withhold payments from those checks.
- Intercepted Tax Refunds — If the obligor continues to not make payments, the Child Support Agency may intercept tax refunds and economic stimulus payments.
- Liens on Real Property — If the obligor owns real property (land), it is subject to a lien. Minnesota law provides for a summary method for docketing a civil judgment against an obligor. All judgment liens won must be filed with the county recorder before they are effective. Liens can then be foreclosed and properties sold at auction, the proceeds going to pay obligees. If the property is a homestead, the lien attaches to it, but the payment cannot be collected unless the property is sold.
- Liens on Motor Vehicle — If obligors are behind on an amount equal to at least three times the monthly support obligations, they are subject to a lien on their motor vehicle if it is worth over $2,000, or on their equity in the vehicle, if the equity is over $2,000.
- Loss of License — If obligors are behind on three times the monthly payment, they are also subject to losing their driver’s license. Obligors may qualify for a 90-day limited license if they can prove sufficient need. Obligors also face suspension of their occupational license. If obligors are six months behind in support payments or the amount equal to six months of payments, they are subject to loss of hunting and fishing privileges.
- Credit Reporting — If the obligor is more than three months behind on payments, a report will be sent to the credit agencies.
- Contempt of Court — The obligee or the county may move that a late obligor be held in contempt of court. If the court finds that the obligor has the ability to pay but is refusing to pay, the court may impose a fine or conditional jail sentence.
- Seizure of Financial Assets — If the obligor is behind on payments by at least five times the monthly support obligation, and the arrears have been submitted for federal or state tax intercept, then the child support agency may use Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM) to locate the obligor’s financial assets, such as bank accounts, and seize them by a FIDM levy.
- Private Collection Agencies — If the obligor is at 90 days late, the county may refer the case to a private collection agency or the Department of Revenue (DOR). The DOR uses the same remedies it uses on tax cases.
- Criminal Charges — If obligors knowingly failed to pay, had the ability to pay during the period of nonpayment and willfully failed to pay, they may face criminal charges from misdemeanor to felony, depending on other circumstances. They may face federal prosecution if the children live in different states, if the obligation remained unpaid for over one year and is more than $5,000.
- Other Penalties — The agency can also charge interest in the unpaid balance, deny passport application or renewal (if $5,000 or more is owed), and deny student grant payments for higher education.
What if the Employer is Hiding the Employee’s Income?
Employers are required to report all hires to the Department of Human Services (DHS). If they intentionally fail to comply, they are subject to a civil penalty of $25 per un-reported employee and $500 per employee if a conspiracy is found between the employer and the employee. The obligee or the county may take action against a non-compliant employer. If an employer intentionally fails to comply with a court order for wage withholding can be held in contempt of court and may be subject to sanctions. Note: An employer may not discriminate against a child support obligor by discharging, refusing to hire, or otherwise disciplining him or her because of his child support obligations.
What if the Obligor has Under-the-Table Income?
If the obligee suspects that the obligor is underemployed or is hiding sources of income, the obligee can file for a modification of the child support based on potential income rather than actual income. The court will determine the potential income by imputing income based on the parent’s probable earnings based on employment potential, recent work history, and occupational qualifications, weighed against the local economic climate.
If wage withholding is ineffective because the obligor is self-employed, the court may order the obligor to establish a deposit account for paying support. Then, if the obligor subsequently fails to maintain the account, he will is subject to contempt of court proceedings. This is a rare option.
Defenses to Nonpayment
There are no defenses to nonpayment of child support. Interference with visitation is not a defense. Minn. Stat. 518.612. Unemployment of loss of income is not a defense, and payments will accumulate until payment is made. If obligors cannot pay, they must files a motion to modify the existing support order, work out a written payment plan with the county, or work out some other legally enforceable compromise with the county or obligee.
A late obligor can avoid loss of licensure and motor vehicle liens if they can enter into a written payment agreement with the court, child support magistrate, or public authority. The public official will consider the unique financial circumstances and write a graduated payment plan. If the obligor fails to comply, he or she is immediately subject to loss of licensure or motor vehicle lien.
Written by Lucas Spaeth