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What Happens If My Child Turns 18 But My Ex Still Owes Child Support?

What Happens If My Child Turns 18 But My Ex Still Owes Child Support?

Parents that still owe child support after the child turns 18, should continue to make child support payments. This is because, even when the child support obligation ends, child support arrears do not go away. The child support payments made after the obligation ends will go toward paying off arrears owed. The payor parent may even be able to petition the court to have the monthly payment lowered as the full monthly payments made would be going straight toward paying off the arrears total.

In Utah, there is no statute of limitations on collecting child support arrears. It does not matter how old the child is, even if the child has become a full-blown adult. Child support arrears remain until paid. This is not true in every state, but it is true in Utah. In some instances, even the death of the parent will not release him or her of the obligation to pay child support arrears. The other parent can make a claim against the obligor parent’s estate if he or she dies with unpaid child support still owed.

It is important to note, however, that just because there is no statute of limitations in place on child support arrears does not mean that you should wait to take action. Delays in seeking collection of past-due child support may provide the delinquent parent with possible defenses to any claim to arrears you may seek later on. Laches, for instance, may apply. A laches claim means that the delinquent parent is asserting unreasonable delay in you making your claim to child support arrears. There are several ways you may be able to collect back child support and the Utah Department of Revenue may be able to assist you with this. The Utah Department of Revenue is authorized to carry out a wide array of actions in order to get payment on back child support. Collection efforts may include:
• Sending notices of late payment
• Income withholding
• Suspension of the delinquent parent’s driver’s licenses and professional licenses
• Intercepting federal income tax refunds or workers’ compensation support payments
• Placing a lien on personal property
• Passport application denial
• Notifying credit agencies of child support arrears
• You also have the option of filing a motion for contempt with the court.

Will Child Support Still Be the Same If the Child Turns 18 and I Still Owe Arrears?

Child support provides for the costs of raising your child until they reach the age of majority, or adulthood, in your state or until they meet other court-established requirements, such as completing high school. Typically, child support ends at that point, but if you are behind on your child support payments to your child’s other parent, you must continue making payments to make up for the amounts you did not pay, called arrears, until you fulfill your obligation.

Child Support Basics

Courts frequently include child support requirements in divorce decrees. When a judge orders a noncustodial parent to pay child support to the child’s custodial parent, the intention is that the money be used to pay for the child’s care and support. Common uses include necessities such as shelter, food, clothing, and medical care as well as the costs of childcare, school and educational costs and fees, activities, entertainment, travel, and more.
Judges consider a variety of factors when determining whether to order child support and, if so, how much to award. Ideally, child support lets the child continue to enjoy the same standard of living they enjoyed before the parents’ divorce. Of course, child support depends on financial needs and the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay.

Payments in Arrears vs. On-Time Payments

Your divorce decree or separate child support court order defines specific child support requirements. Typically, child support ends when the child reaches the age of 18 and finishes high school, although in some states or under some court orders, it continues through a child’s college years. If you make your payments on time, your obligation ends when your family’s situation meets the requirements described in your divorce decree or court order.
Sometimes, though, noncustodial parents struggle to meet their child support obligations. If a child reaches the point when payments would otherwise stop, the noncustodial parent still owes the debt associated with any missed payments.

In some states, child support not paid on time is subject to interest and late payment penalties. So, the amount you owe your child’s other parent may be greater than what you originally owed.

Statutes of Limitations

Child support laws are state specific. Some states’ laws include statutes of limitations for late child support payments. That means that your child’s other parent cannot collect child support in arrears after a certain point. In many states, this limit is 10 years after the due date for the last child support payment. So, if your child support should have ended when your son or daughter turned 18, your child’s other parent only has until your child’s 28th birthday to collect child support in arrears.

If you owe child support in arrears and your child has reached the age of majority or another milestone specified in your child support order, the debt is still valid. Sometimes, parents pay child support in arrears long after the child reaches adulthood.

Collecting Back Child Support After the Child Turns 18

Just because your ex missed a child support payment doesn’t mean the obligation goes away. Like any financial obligation, the amount you’re owed will accumulate and your ex will still be responsible for making back child support payments.

Emancipation and Arrears

Those who are late making child support payments are said to be “in arrears.” As noted above, this debt does not go away, even after the child turns 18. So even though the child has reached the age a majority, the payments that should have been made before he or she turned 18 are still enforceable after that. Keep in mind that state laws can vary a little on this issue. For example, some states cut off child support at 18, some at 19, and others at 21. (And some dismiss child support obligations if the child has been “emancipated.”) Also, some states and courts may modify child support obligations after the child turns 18, since the custodial parent no longer needs to support the child. Even with these differences, however, the rule is that child support payments must continue until the arrears balance is paid in full, regardless of the child’s age.

Enforcement Actions

States and the federal government are pretty serious when it comes to enforcing child support orders. Enforcement officials can withhold or revoke driver’s licenses or passports, garnish wages, seize tax refunds, place liens on property, or even sentence a delinquent parent to jail time. These enforcement measures can continue after the child turns 18, and most states do not allow child support obligations to be discharged in bankruptcy. One thing to keep in mind is that some states may have statutes of limitation on collection of back child support, so may only have a limited time to collect after your child turns 18 or you may have to go back to court and renew the child support order. Child support collection can be complicated, both legally and emotionally. If you have questions regarding child support obligations or are having trouble collecting back child support, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.

How Can I Reduce my Child Support Debt?

If you owe child support arrears to the government because your child received public assistance (“welfare” or foster care), you may qualify for one of Utah’s arrears reduction programs.

Child Support Debt Reduction Program

The Child Support Debt Reduction Program is a Utah program designed to help you reduce the child support debt you owe to the government. If you qualify for this program you will be allowed to pay off your debt for less than the full amount owed. You may qualify for this program if you are able to pay both your current child support obligation and an ongoing debt payment. If you don’t owe child support, only the ability to make the debt payment is considered. Your current income, assets, and cost of living are all taken into account, as is the total size and makeup of your family. Every case is different, and these are very general items for your review. Other details of your case may also affect your eligibility.

What the Debt Reduction Program won’t do:
• It will not forgive the entire debt.
• It does not change your monthly child support obligation.
• It will not reduce unpaid child support that is owed directly to the person receiving support you can only reduce the amount you owe to the government.
• It will not reduce spousal support arrears.

Some rules:
• Don’t stop paying your child support because you are applying for the Debt Reduction Program. This is grounds for a denial of your application.
• Provide complete information and documents with your application. Your application cannot be considered until you have done this.
• Be honest. If you do not tell the truth on your application, or if you hide income or assets, your application will be denied.
• Make your payments as agreed. If you do not make the debt reduction payments after an agreement has been reached, your agreement will be canceled and you will owe the unpaid amount to the state again.
• Even if you are approved, keep paying your regular child support. If you miss any current child support payments your agreement will be canceled. You will owe the full amount of your pre-agreement arrears and will not receive a refund for any payments made.

Compromise of Assigned Arrearages-Family Reunification (COAA-FR) program

Utah has adopted the COAA-FR program to help bring parents and children placed in out-of-home care back together. This program allows the compromise of child support arrears owed to the government when a child who was placed in foster care, or with a relative caretaker or guardian, later returns to the home of a parent who was ordered to pay support.

You may qualify for this program if:
• You are the parent of a child and you owe support debt to the government because your child received aid from one of the following while your child was not living with either parent:
• Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care (AFDC-FC)
• Utah Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs)
• Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment (KinGAP)
• ONE of the following situations applies:
• Your child was made a dependent of the court, placed in foster care, and the court later gave custody to you
• Your child was voluntarily placed with a relative or guardian (not the other parent); and the child lived with you at some point in the past.
• Your child is living with you now at least 50% of the time
• Your child has not reached the age of majority (AOM) or emancipated
• Your net disposable income (after taxes) is less than 250% of the federal poverty level and a compromise is necessary to help you support the child
• You are following any reunification plan required by the county welfare department or the court

How to Get Child Support Arrears Dismissed in Utah

Child support arrears refer to the amount of child support owed that a parent has failed to pay. Although failure to pay child support arrears can result in negative outcomes for a parent/guardian, it is possible to work with Utah courts to have owed amounts lessened or waived. Here’s how to get child support arrears dismissed in Utah.
Dismissal of child support arrears is possible in the State of Utah when the proper steps are taken. Although it is unlikely that the full amount owed will be forgiven, there are ways to reduce the amount greatly.

Consequences of Failing to Pay Child Support Arrears

If a parent or guardian has failed to pay child support arrears, they may face serious consequences. These include but are not limited to:
• Having wages suspended by the government to pay the court obligation. This can not only include one’s salary, but the wages that are suspended can also include social security, unemployment, disability, workers’ compensation, and tax refunds.
• It is possible for a parent/guardian to be charged with a misdemeanor if that parent/guardian has willingly failed to pay the owed amount of child support arrears.
• Failure to pay child support arrears can result in the revocation of the parent’s/guardian’s driver’s license.
• An increase in child support payments may result from missed payments towards child support arrears.
• Any state professional license obtained by the parent/guardian can be suspended.
• The parent/guardian may be refused a renewal of their passport if they fail to pay their child support arrears.
• Credit score can be negatively impacted due to the debt accrued by the child support payments.
• The state can order a lien against any property owned or have interest in.

Child Support Arrear Forgiveness in Utah

Although the consequences are severe, child support arrears can be forgiven in the State of Utah. There are multiple ways in which a parent can have their child support arrears waived or forgiven:
• Parents are allowed to ask the court to recalculate the amount owed to make sure that it is correct.
• If a child lived with a parent for a period that the arrear is referencing, the judge may lessen the amount owed. This will often depend on the amount of time the child spent under the parent’s care and how much financial support was given during this time.
• In Utah, child support arrears gain an interest of 10% annually. Although child support arrears do accrue interest, one may not have to pay it all back in some cases.
• A parent can request a payment schedule from the court. Although this does not lessen the amount, it does help the parent get back on track to pay the original balance.
• A parent is allowed to reach a settlement with the other guardian of the child. If the debt from the arrears becomes too expensive, one may be able to reach a lump-sum settlement with the other guardian. It should be noted, however, that even if both guardians reach an agreement to waive the remaining child support arrears, this settlement must be approved by the court.
• Utah courts will work with parents/guardians to pay the correct amount of child support on time.

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It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506
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About the Author

People who want a lot of Bull go to a Butcher. People who want results navigating a complex legal field go to a Lawyer that they can trust. That’s where I come in. I am Michael Anderson, an Attorney in the Salt Lake area focusing on the needs of the Average Joe wanting a better life for him and his family. I’m the Lawyer you can trust. I grew up in Utah and love it here. I am a Father to three, a Husband to one, and an Entrepreneur. I understand the feelings of joy each of those roles bring, and I understand the feeling of disappointment, fear, and regret when things go wrong. I attended the University of Utah where I received a B.A. degree in 2010 and a J.D. in 2014. I have focused my practice in Wills, Trusts, Real Estate, and Business Law. I love the thrill of helping clients secure their future, leaving a real legacy to their children. Unfortunately when problems arise with families. I also practice Family Law, with a focus on keeping relationships between the soon to be Ex’s civil for the benefit of their children and allowing both to walk away quickly with their heads held high. Before you worry too much about losing everything that you have worked for, before you permit yourself to be bullied by your soon to be ex, before you shed one more tear in silence, call me. I’m the Lawyer you can trust.