Myths and Facts Regarding Child Support Obligations in Virginia

Many myths and misconceptions abound regarding child support. Some may come from the fact that different states have different laws regarding child support; others may come from experiences people have had in the past that are no longer relevant due to changes in the law. Below are some commonly-held beliefs - some true, some false - about child support.

Belief: There is an enormous backlog of unpaid child support.

This is true. In Virginia alone, custodial parents are collectively owed $2.6 billion in past-due child support.

Belief: Once child support amounts are approved by a court, they cannot be changed.

This is false. Either parent can request a review of the child support payment amounts. Common reasons for a review include a significant raise or drop in income by either parent, a new job or a job loss, a change in the size of a family, a change in work-related daycare expenses, or extraordinary medical expenses.

Belief: Filing bankruptcy will relieve me of the need to pay child support.

This is false. Child support is one of the few debts that cannot be discharged by bankruptcy. Although the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement will limit its collection efforts to just current support (and not back payments still owed), after the bankruptcy is discharged, those back payments are still due. However, bankruptcy may help some people by making more money available every month to pay child support.

Belief: If a parent doesn't pay child support, the state can take the money from his or her paycheck.

This is true. Paycheck deductions for child support are the largest source of child support payments. The state may also intercept state and federal tax refunds, as well as unemployment checks. In fact, due to the recession, in 2009, support collected from unemployment checks tripled nationally, while collections from paychecks and tax refunds were down for the first time.

Belief: After my child turns 18, I am no longer eligible for child support.

This is often false - but not always. In 1996, Virginia laws were changed, making children entitled to support until they turned 19 or graduated from high school, whichever comes first. But this law was not retroactive, meaning that it may not apply to child support orders from before 1996.

Belief: I cannot collect back-owed child support now that my child is older than 18.

This is false. Delinquent payments are still owed, even after the child has turned 19. These payments are still owed to the parent, unless a court determines they should be made to the adult children.

Belief: Non-payment can affect a parent's credit rating.

This is true. Every payment (or non-payment) is reported to credit rating bureaus by the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement. Non-payment may also result in revocation of the parent's driver's license and passport.

Belief: I can make payments directly to the other parent, rather than going through the Division of Child Support Enforcement.

False. Once a parent has been ordered to make payments through the DCSE, any other direct payments to the other parent do not count against the child support obligation, and are considered merely a gift.