Child Support is the court ordered obligation the non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent for the necessary child related expenses. Usually Dad pays it directly to Mom in a divorce situation and in paternity cases it’s more often through DHS, the Department of Human Services-Child Support Enforcement Unit. (dah-duhn) (the Law and Order “sound” being referenced just now.)
It is standard that if dad is delinquent on payments or mom seeks state benefits, opening a case with DHS will cause the monies to be redirected through DHS, and possibly a Withholding Order be issued against the payor. The law provides that DHS can do this summarily upon application with minimal notice requirements and does not require a modification of your Court Order by the Court which originally ordered it.
This is kind of a big deal. In plain English, this means that if mom says your late, DHS swings into action. They send you a letter stating you are behind, threaten to suspend your license, send a Withholding Order to your work and assume guilt automatically. This creates lots of hassle and headache when it’s not true. Additionally, when it’s not true, it takes filing an action in Court to fix it, securing an Order. There are usually no consequences for mom and she can do it again if she wants.
Well, DHS is stepping up their enforcement another notch. Mom can go in and just say, “I want him to pay through DHS.” She does not have to allege any delinquency, she does not have to apply for other state benefits. She pays $25, opens a case and dad is notified that from that point he is to pay directly to and through DHS. If dad does not pay directly, DHS will pursue contempt and arrearage against him. And DHS considers the letter, which dad may or may not have even received, as sufficient and reasonable notice to dad and treats dad’s continued payments to mom as “gifts.” All of this without formal Court involvement and in my view far short of “due process,” but nonetheless valid as of now. MCA 43-19-35, et seq.
So if you are paying child support directly and get something from DHS, DO NOT IGNORE IT. It could have serious implications on who and what you pay. Notify your attorney immediately. If you are receiving child support and are having issues with the payor, consider having it redirected through DHS. It is a much less expensive alternative to a private attorney when that deadbeat ain’t paying.
Whether you like the DHS process or not it is being enforced force and taking effect.
Matthew Thompson, a Child Support Lawyer and Family Law Adj. Professor at MC Law, encourages you to know your rights and obligations when it comes to Child Support. Pay your Support and Pay it Often!