Many single parents rely on their monthly child support payments to pay their rent and provide for their kids’ needs. But that can make the child’s 18th birthday seem like a cliff, leaving the parent unsupported even as the child’s expenses promise to increase. That raises the question: “Can you collect child support after your kid turns 18?”
There are many reasons why a child support payer may end up with an unpaid child support balance:
- Delays in the entry of the Uniform Child Support Order or Income Withholding Order caused an initial balance that went unnoticed.
- They lost their job and failed to file a Motion to Modify Child Support.
- They changed jobs and no new Income Withholding Order was sent to the new employer.
- A self-employed payer may forget to pay or pay improperly.
- They are unemployed and are unable to keep up with payments based on “imputed” income.
- They don’t realize their SSDI disability benefits can be used to pay child support.
- They refuse to pay because of hard feelings toward their ex-spouse.
Unpaid child support is called “Arrearage”. It accounts for any unpaid support, as well as administrative fees and interest that pay for Friend of the Court enforcement efforts. Over time, if child support payments are not maintained, a payer’s arrearage can add up to thousands of dollars.
Generally, if the Friend of the Court has issued an Income Withholding Order, that order will direct the payer’s employer to submit a slightly higher payment each pay check to help pay for the arrearage. But the amount of arrears collected is far less than the monthly payment amount. When a payer is self-employed or unemployed, even that small monthly amount often goes unpaid.
Enforcing Child Support Orders
The Friend of the Court is primarily responsible for helping parents enforce their child support orders. The Friend of the Court can issue new Income Withholding Orders, seize tax returns, file garnishment actions, and even request bench warrants for the arrest of the payer to help collect unpaid balances. This is a taxpayer-funded system that usually will not cost the enforcing parent anything.
Parents who are owed money can also request enforcement by hiring an attorney and filing a motion with the circuit court that entered the initial child support order. However, because family law attorneys must usually be paid for their time, this type of enforcement is usually only helpful when the amount owed is very large and there is reason to believe the payer is withholding the funds (rather than simply doesn’t have them). You can ask the court to order your ex-partner to pay for your attorney fees, but that money will come out of the funds available to go toward the unpaid arrearage.
Unpaid Child Support Doesn’t Go Away on the 18th Birthday
Michigan law says that a court can order child support until a child turns 18, or longer if that child lives with a parent and is attending high school (up to age 19 1/2). This is one of the few states that does not allow for court-ordered “post-majority support” to cover children with developmental delays or special needs, or who need help paying for post-secondary education. If the parents want to each contribute to an adult child’s college expenses, they will have to agree to it themselves.
The good news is, even when your children age out of receiving child support, the arrearage isn’t going anywhere. There have been cases where parents with significant arrearge balances continued paying for years after the child aged out of the system.
Take the recently published Court of Appeals case, Parks v Niemiec, for example. The court ordered John Niemiec to pay child support for his two children in 1992. By 2004, he had accumulated around $40,000 in unpaid child support. His children turned 18 in 2005 and 2007, in turn. Then Niemiec went to prison and the court suspended his obligation to pay while he was incarcerated (this only applies to prison sentences over 1 year). When he was released in December 2016, he said “Too late!” and file a motion to discharge the unpaid support.
But the Court of Appeals said the court could still collect the unpaid child support. Because the trial court continued to exercise jurisdiction in his case (including by suspending the child support order), the 10 year limit on collecting support was “tolled” and the Friend of the Court’s collections efforts could continue.
You may not be able to receive new child support payments after your kid turns 18, but if the other parent owes you money, you have time to collect on that debt. Contact your local Friend of the Court or speak with a family law attorney to discuss your options.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps parents with custody, paternity, and child support matters in Metro Detroit. If you are facing a steep unpaid child support balance, contact Schmidt & Long for a consultation.