Enforcement of Child Support Orders in Massachusetts

For information on Massachusetts Child Support
Understanding Past Due Child Support in Massachusetts
Office of Child Support Enforcement

In General:

Under Massachusetts law, parents, whether they are married to each other or not, are equally responsible for the support of their children. In Massachusetts, this obligation is in effect until the children reach the age of 18.  The court may make appropriate orders of maintenance, support and education of any child who has attained age 18, but not yet 21, and who is domiciled in the home of a parent and principally dependent upon that parent for support.  Same may be true to a child who has attained the age of 21 but not yet 23, if the child is principally dependent upon parents for enrollment in an educational program, excluding educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree. 

In Massachusetts, persons with outstanding child support obligations may be subject to suspension of a professional and/or driver's license.  In this case, the license is not renewable until nonpayment status is removed by the Department of Revenue. The names of these individuals also may be released to the public as part of a program designed to alert them about this program.

The State of Massachusetts recently implemented an innovative program called the Payment Intercept Program.  Working with insurance industry representatives and the Division of Insurance,  it is designed to facilitate timely processing of claims.  Most importantly, it helps families provide for their children. The Department of Revenue intercepts insurance claim payments and uses them to pay past due child support obligations.  This initiative requires DOR and insurance companies to work together to identify pending claim payments owed to parents who have child support debts, and to ensure that the money goes to support their children..

What to do if your "ex" moves out of state?  You can still enforce the child support judgment even if your "ex" moves out of state.  Armed with your Massachusetts support order, you can go to the other state's court to enforce the obligation.  This is done through a "reciprocal" or URESA petition in the Family Court in the County where you live.  While this is not an overly complicated process, the Court staff can assist with this.  Be patient as these actions can take several months.

Enforcing Child Support

It's a major headache for everyone when a parent refuses to pay his or her court ordered child support. This is a serious problem of national dimensions. A recent study found that less than half the parents awarded child support receive payment in full. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 1999, non-custodial parents failed to pay $13 billion the owed in child support payments. This failure is a major cause of poverty in children.
  • Families receiving public assistance - In Massachusetts, each county has established a child support enforcement agency that can assist you in collecting child support from your spouse. This agency has responsibility for collecting child support for families receiving cash assistance. However, you may also apply for help even if you are not receiving cash assistance. If you do receive cash assistance in Massachusetts, you must assign child support rights to the state. You must also help to locate the parent who is absent from the home.

    If you do not cooperate, you may be denied public assistance benefits.

  • Families not receiving public assistance - Services are available to non-public assistance parents by the payment of a non-refundable $25 fee. If you are representing yourself, and you are not on cash assistance, applying to the child support agency in your county for help is an excellent method of obtaining legal representation at minimal cost.

A child support order is as enforceable as any other court judgment or decree. A parent who is owed child support can use each and every legal tool available to enforce the order, including wage garnishments, wage assignments, contempt of court decrees and the seizure of the non-payor's property by writ of execution.


Use the Government's Parent Locator Service

Nonpaying parents may hide from the custodial parent in order to avoid their child support obligation. They may even go so far as to move out of state to avoid their responsibilities.

In order to fix this problem, the federal government has created the Parent Locator Service (The law also requires the states to establish a Parent Locator Services). The law allows you to use the resources of the federal government (including the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service) to locate a nonpaying parent's employer. Once found, the custodial parent or the state can enforce the child support order and collect unpaid support recovering support from tax refunds. The law also permits the IRS to pay past due child support from tax refunds that the nonpaying parent is due from the government.

For more information on the Parent Locator Service, contact the local office of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Obtain a Wage Assignment

A wage assignment is a special procedure that allows the court to order an employer to make direct payments to the custodial parent from the wages of the supporting parent. You can apply to the court for a wage assignment. Notice of this action must be served on the paying parent's employer. The employer will deduct child support like any other deduction from the paying parent's paycheck and send the money directly to the custodial parent. If the nonpaying parent holds a steady job, this is a very valuable tool.

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