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My Ex Isn’t Paying Child Support. Now What?

Jonathan Wolf

According to a recent report from the USDA, for middle-income parents, the cost of raising a child born in 2015 through age 17 is an expected $233,610 — or a staggering $284,570 if projected inflation is factored in. These figures only include necessities, and do not include parental contributions to the cost of a college education. Needless to say, bearing the cost of raising a child can be an enormous financial burden.

Split fairly among two parents, the monetary costs of raising a child can be burdensome, but ultimately manageable. Yet, when the parents themselves split, sometimes one of them is left shouldering an inequitable economic burden.

Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of child support. In a broad sense, child support means the payments a court orders one parent to make to the other to serve as financial contributions for the care and support of a minor child. Typically the respective incomes of the parties and the amount of time the child spends with each of the parties are the most important factors in determining the amount of support. But what do you do when the other parent is not paying anything at all? If you are supposed to be the recipient of child support payments, but are not getting any payments from your ex, you have a few options.

Retaining a private attorney makes more sense when establishing a support order against a higher-earning ex

Not everyone who is not receiving child support is similarly situated. On the one hand, there are those for whom a child support order is in place, but the other parent has never made payments or has simply stopped making payments. On the other hand, there are those for whom there has never been a child support order in place at all.

In either situation, you can pay a child support attorney to represent you in family law litigation. However, most private attorneys charge a billable rate that is several hundred dollars per hour and require a retainer deposit before taking on a case. For many child support recipients seeking help collecting on what is already owed, the retainer amount exceeds the amount in arrears, making it cost-prohibitive to retain private counsel to pursue remedies in family law court. Fortunately, for those who are unable to afford a private attorney, county child support offices will help enforce support orders to collect on arrearages.

If you are in a situation where a child support order needs to be established in the first place, or where an established support order needs to be modified, it is arguably more important and worth the investment of funds to retain an attorney. For many parents, there has never been a child support order in place. This is common for those couples who were unmarried, but were workably dividing child-related expenses during their relationship. When the romantic relationship between unmarried parents ends, in many cases, so too does the willingness of one of the parents to contribute his or her fair share to the costs of raising a child.

Under Minnesota law, the court has the ultimate authority to determine the amount of a child support order. However, courts generally follow the basic support guidelines established by Minnesota statute. The amount of child support owed under these guidelines is determined using a wide variety of factors, including each parent’s gross monthly income from all sources, how many children live in each parent’s home, any other child support orders and/or spousal maintenance orders for either parent, Veterans or Social Security payments paid to the child due to a parent’s disability or retirement, costs for medical and dental coverage, child care costs, and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. The guidelines are just a table, and the county child support office in your county will help you, at no cost or at a nominal cost, arrive at a number on that table based on all the relevant factors. The reason that hiring a private attorney may be helpful is that many of the factors which go into finding the right spot on the table can be manipulated. While county child support offices do the best they can with the resources they have, they are sometimes unable to go to the depths that a private attorney can. For example, some of those who are self-employed running their own businesses understate their true income on their tax returns; a government office might not take the time and incur the expense of analyzing your ex’s tax returns, subpoenaing customers and suppliers if necessary, and arguing to the court why certain tax deductions were improperly taken, therefore demonstrating that your ex’s income for purposes of child support should be far higher than what is actually stated as the total income on the tax returns. For a higher-earning ex, relatively small differences in income or in any of the other child support factors can add up to a difference of tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a support order.

Keep in mind that for any child support order, the amount of support owed on paper is only as good as your ability to actually collect it. If your ex is an accountant, a lawyer, or a school principal, you have a pretty good chance of being able to collect the amounts owed for child support, through employer withholding or some other means of enforcement. If your ex was unemployed when you were together and does not seem likely to reverse that status, any child support order you get will probably not be for a particularly high amount, and will not be particularly easy to enforce. While it is certainly unfair and immoral for one parent to shirk his or her financial responsibilities to a child, in the child support context, the old idiom unfortunately applies: “You can’t get blood from a stone.”

Get help from your county child support office or a private law firm

If your ex is not paying child support and you cannot afford the services of a private attorney, you may wish to contact your county child support office. The Minnesota Department of Human Services maintains a list of contact information for the various county child support offices throughout the state, and may also be helpful in answering your general child support questions. If you think it might be worth the extra investment of time and resources to retain a private attorney in your efforts to secure child support payments, contact Rinke Noonan Attorneys at Law.

Raising a child is difficult under the best of circumstances. Do not make it harder than it has to be — if your ex is not paying for his or her fair share of child-related expenses, take action to pursue the financial resources your child needs.

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