October 6, 1999
CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT IN CONNECTICUT
By: Lawrence K. Furbish, Assistant Director
You asked how Connecticut state agencies help parents collect child support.
A child support obligation in Connecticut can be set by Superior Court in conjunction with a family relations matter such as a dissolution of marriage, or it can arise though state activity in a IV-D case with the involvement of the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Family Support Magistrate Division. In the former, enforcement usually occurs through the actions of a private attorney bringing a contempt action in court if the person owing support (obligor) fails to pay. In the latter the state becomes actively involved in enforcement and collection.
The major services the state provides are (1) locating absent parents, (2) determining paternity, (3) obtaining or changing child support orders, (4) obtaining or enforcing medical support, (5) enforcing support orders, and (6) collecting and distributing support. The first step for people who need state assistance in obtaining child support is to go to the nearest Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) office, which provides all intake functions. In IV-D cases parents receiving Temporary Family Assistance (TFA), which is the successor to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), or state foster care payments receive child support enforcement services without charge; if they are not receiving TFA, they must pay a $25 application fee (the fee is $1 if their income is less than the TFA standard of assistance).
Several state agencies are involved in the collection of child support. The DSS BCSE is responsible for coordinating child support services; taking IV-D applications; finding absent parents; establishing paternity and support orders; and some enforcement activities such as credit reporting, lottery offset, state and federal tax offset, and fair hearings. The Judicial Department's Support Enforcement Division (SED) enforces and changes child support orders and audits accounts. This division of labor results from 1992 legislation that realigned child support functions to consolidate court-based enforcement in SED and pre-obligation services in BCSE.
The state uses a wide array of techniques to collect child support. These include income withholding orders, contempt citations and civil arrest, income tax refund intercept, credit bureau reporting, liens on property, lottery offset, wanted posters, seizure and attachment of other assets and benefits, work requirements, and license suspensions.
FINDING ABSENT PARENTS
After a client comes to the BCSE office, fills out an application, and, if appropriate, pays the fee, the first step is sometimes to find the absent parent. Child support workers search a number of information sources, including state and national computer banks. The records of the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Defense, the state Motor Vehicles and Labor departments, and law enforcement agencies are searched; state records are searched through the State Parent Locator Service in Hartford and federal and other states' records through the Federal Parent Locator Service in Washington. The more information the client can provide about an absent parent the easier it is for the BCSE to find the person, and the best information the client can provide is the noncustodial parent's social security number.
If there is an existing support order, locating a missing parent is the responsibility of the SED.
DETERMINATION OF PATERNITY
When two unmarried people have a child, a legal relationship must be established between the father and the child before a court will order child support; this legal process is called establishing paternity. In many cases this is done voluntarily, with the mother signing a sworn statement called an “affirmation of paternity” and the father admitting paternity. If the father refuses to agree, the state must begin a formal court proceeding to establish paternity. The BCSE staff, with the assistance of the client, collect information and evidence to establish that the man in question (the putative father) is, in fact, the father. The Attorney General's Office takes the case to court, and this legal assistance should benefit the mother and child, but, technically, the attorney general represents the state. A parent who is not receiving AFDC can hire a private attorney to represent her interests directly. If the case goes to trial, the court can order a blood test if it deems it necessary to establish paternity. In IV-D cases the BCSE can, in certain circumstances, require DNA tests for the child and other parties. Once paternity is established, the BCSE can move to establish a support order.
CHILD SUPPORT ORDERS
Child support orders in Connecticut are based on a set of guidelines that establish specified amounts of support depending on the number of children and the parents' financial condition. The court can diverge from the guidelines when there are reasons for doing so. Once a support order is established it can be changed (modified) due to changes in the parents' financial circumstances or if the support is no longer adequate.
The BCSE staff will ask the client to collect and provide financial information for both of the parents, including wages, other income, expenses, and debts. The easiest and quickest way to obtain (or modify) a support order is by a voluntary agreement. If the parent owing support agrees with the amount owed under the guidelines, he or she can sign an agreement form which, when approved by a family support magistrate and filed with the court clerk, becomes a legally binding obligation.
If the person owing support refuses to agree, the BCSE staff will go to court with the assistance of the Attorney General's Office. If the parents are getting a divorce, the case will go to the Family Division of Superior Court; if the case involves only child support, it will go before a family support magistrate. Each side presents information and evidence about its financial condition, and the judge or magistrate will establish or modify a support order. The SED is responsible for reviewing existing support orders, and it will assist clients in bringing requests for modifying such orders.
If the noncustodial parent lives outside Connecticut, the BCSE will use the provisions of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to establish a support order where the noncustodial parent lives or, if an order already exists either in Connecticut or another state, enforce or, in some cases, modify it. The SED serves as a central registry of support orders under UIFSA, and it acts as the responding state for UIFSA actions initiated outside Connecticut.
Courts and family support magistrates must include in their support orders a provision for the child's health care coverage and require either parent to name the child as a beneficiary of any group or union medical or dental insurance plan available to the parent. When the insurance is unavailable at reasonable cost, the provisions of PA 99-279 allow the court or magistrate to order either parent to apply for and maintain HUSKY B coverage for the child and pay all or part of any premium. The non-custodial parent can be ordered to apply for HUSKY B only if he is found to have sufficient ability to pay the premium.
If the non-custodial parent cannot pay the premium and the custodial parent is the HUSKY Part A or B applicant, the order can require the non-custodial parent to pay any amount the court or magistrate specifies to offset the cost of the insurance unless the payment would reduce the amount of current support required under the Child Support Guidelines.
As in the case of other health care coverage, the court must order the parent's employer to withhold the employee's share of the HUSKY B premiums from his compensation.
Once the support order is established, the custodial parent should begin receiving support checks, but in some cases she may not and the BCSE and SED become involved in enforcement. The Connecticut Child Support Enforcement System is an automated computer system BCSE and SED use to collect and distribute child support and maintain related records. BCSE enters child support cases into the system at intake, and the system allows the agencies to monitor payments and delinquencies so that action can be taken as soon as support is delinquent.
The BCSE does administrative enforcement, which includes wage withholding, lien placement, credit reporting, lottery offset, income tax refund withholding, and capias mittimus (civil arrest). The SED does court-based enforcement, which includes automated enforcement, wage withholding in established cases, contempt, criminal actions, and account audits.
Child support payments can be taken directly out of paychecks, unemployment and workers' compensation benefits, and retirement checks. In many cases a judge or family support magistrate will include an income withholding order when the support order is established, and if an obligor (person owing support) becomes more than 30 days delinquent, the BCSE can start withholding provided it notifies the obligor and offers him or her the right to a court hearing. Under PA 97-7, June 18 Special Session the wage withholding must be immediately effective unless the court specifically finds that doing so is not in the child's best interest. If the obligor's source of income is unknown, SED must to try to establish wage withholding.
Contempt Citation and Capias Mittimus
If the obligor becomes more than 30 days delinquent in support payments or fails to maintain medical insurance, the SED can ask a magistrate to find the parent in contempt. The parent must be personally served with the court papers, and if found guilty of purposefully disobeying the court's orders, he or she can be sent to jail. If the person fails to obey the service and appear for the hearing, the magistrate can order his arrest with a capias mittimus.
The BCSE has two full-time officers who execute capiuses, plus many family support magistrates use deputy sheriffs to serve them. In addition, about twice a year the Attorney General's Office coordinates large weekend capius sweeps involving the courts and the sheriffs' offices.
Income Tax Refund Intercept
If the obligor owes back support ($150 in TFA cases and $500 in non-TFA cases), the BCSE can report the person to the federal Internal Revenue Service and the state Department of Revenue Services and have support deducted from the person's tax refund. The obligor has the right to a court hearing before this action is taken.
Credit Bureau Reporting
If a parent falls at least $1,000 behind in his or her support obligation, the BCSE can report the obligor's name and debt to credit reporting agencies. Such reports can make it more difficult for the person to obtain loans or other credit. The obligor must be informed of this step and given 60 days to ask for a hearing or pay the overdue child support.
If a parent owes at least $500 in back child support, the BCSE can place a lien on his or her personal or real property, usually by filing a notice in city or town land records. Normally, the state can collect on the lien when the obligor sells or refinances the property or another creditor forecloses. The obligor must be given notice and an opportunity to contest the lien.
If an obligor wins the state lottery, the BCSE can ask the Division of Special Revenue to withhold winnings. The obligor must be given notice and an opportunity for a hearing on this action.
Beginning in June 1995, the Attorney General's Office has published wanted posters for people with an outstanding capius order and with significant arrearages. New lists have come out about every six months.
Attachment, Seizure of Assets and Benefits, and Work Requirement
PA 97-7, June 18 Special Session added a number of new weapons to the state's child support collection arsenal. Among other things, the act authorizes the state to seize a delinquent obligor's assets and benefits. It also allows the court or a family support magistrate to order a capable person owing support to work or participate in job training or other employment activities.
The state can suspend driver's, professional, occupational, and certain recreational licenses of people who are more than 90 days delinquent in child support or who fail to provide court-ordered medical insurance.
License Suspension Notice. The law allows the DSS commissioner to send notices to all delinquent IV-D child support obligors concerning possible license suspension. A delinquent obligor is someone who (1) owes over 90 days of overdue current support or arrearage payments or (2) has failed to make medical or dental insurance available within 90 days of being ordered to do so by a court or has failed to maintain such insurance for 90 days.
The notice must describe the obligor's right to seek a modification of the court order and his right to a hearing before any sanctions are imposed.
Licenses Covered. The license suspension provisions apply to motor vehicle operator's licenses; commercial driver's licenses; Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “recreational licenses;” and various professional and occupational licenses, certifications, and permits. These affect, among others, medical practitioners, counselors and therapists, pharmacists, psychologists, embalmers and funeral directors, barbers and hairdressers, real estate agents, architects and designers, sanitarians, tradesmen (such as plumbers and electricians), auctioneers, junk dealers, itinerant vendors, and pawnbrokers.
Pa 97-7, June 18 Special session added DEP recreational licenses and permits to this law. But the actual licenses and permits covered include those for guide services, dog pack hunting, game breeders, raw fur dealers and bait dealers, and taxidermists in addition to hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses.
License Suspension Order. A Superior Court judge or a family support magistrate can issue a license suspension order to enforce a child support order. It must specify the conditions which must be met to avoid license suspension or to reinstate a suspended license. The order takes effect only upon the filing of the affidavit described below.
The judge or family support magistrate may issue a suspension order only if he finds that (1) the obligor has received actual notice of the proceeding and the possible suspension, (2) the obligor's noncompliance is willful and without good cause, (3) the suspension is fair and equitable, and (4) the obligor has sufficient financial resources to comply with the order.
The suspension order in IV-D cases must require DSS to notify the licensing authority of the order and of any conditions that would allow it to be lifted. In non-IV-D cases, the order must specify the procedure and who is responsible for notifying the licensing authority of the order or of its cancellation.
A copy of the suspension order for an obligor who fails to appear must be sent to him by first class mail, with postage prepaid by DSS in IV-D cases or by the person specified in the order in other cases.
The order becomes void and cannot be enforced if the obligor satisfies its conditions within 30 days or the affidavit is not filed as provided below.
Delinquency Affidavit. If the obligor fails to comply with the order's conditions within 30 days, DSS, a support enforcement officer, the obligee, or the obligee's attorney (whichever is named in the suspension order) must file with the court or Family Support Magistrate Division an affidavit stating that the order's conditions have not been met. The party filing the affidavit must provide a copy to the obligor. The affidavit must be filed within 45 days of the expiration of the 30-day period. The suspension order becomes effective on the filing of the affidavit.
Imposition of the Order. When they have received an effective court order directing suspension of a license, DSS, or in a non IV-D case the person specified in the order, must provide the licensing authority with a copy of the suspension order and affidavit. At that point the licensing authority must suspend the license.
When the obligor has complied with the terms of the order concerning reinstatement, or a court or family support magistrate subsequently orders the suspension rescinded, the licensing authority must immediately reinstate the license. The agency cannot charge a fee that exceeds the actual administrative cost of the reinstatement.
COLLECTING AND DISTRIBUTING SUPPORT
Child support paid pursuant to a court order with no IV-D Agency involvement is a private transaction between the parent owing the support and the parent to whom support is owed. But the state acts to collect and distribute support for all IV-D cases. "Collection" refers to the state receiving payments from non-custodial parents and "distribution" to when it pays money to custodial parents. DSS's centralized State Disbursement Unit (SDU) receives all child support payments and enters them in the computer system.
Parents receiving support who have never received AFDC or TFA get their payments directly, usually two to three days after the state receives it. People who currently receive TFA receive their support differently depending on whether or not they are part of the "Jobs First" program. People who used to receive AFDC or TFA get their support by one of two methods depending on whether the Federal Income Tax Refund Withholding is used. If you would like a more detailed description of these distribution formulas, please let us know.