The following are answers to questions commonly asked about child support services from the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR).
- How will DOR work on my case?
- What are my responsibilities?
- What information can DOR disclose?
- Will DOR counsel represent me?
- How can I terminate services?
- Can DOR close my case?
1. How will DOR work on my case?
State and federal law, as well as the policies and procedures DOR has adopted to implement the law, govern all of the child support services that we offer. DOR will decide what services may be available and best suited to your case. In some situations, these laws and rules may mean that we handle your case in a way different from what you prefer. For example, you might want to go to court to pursue judicial enforcement; however, we may choose to use administrative enforcement, such as transferring the income withholding to a new employer and increasing the income withholding by an additional 25% to collect past-due support. Also, if your case meets certain criteria, we may implement a whole range of administrative enforcement methods when you might prefer only one or two. Most of these administrative enforcement methods are automated, which means that when your case meets the required criteria, enforcement remedies are implemented automatically by our computer system. This automated process ensures that you receive the most efficient and effective service possible. DOR will decide which enforcement actions are appropriate in your case. We may use one or more of the following methods to collect past-due child support payments:
- Increase the income withholding by an additional 25%.
- Place a lien on the noncustodial parent's real estate or personal property.
- Suspend business, trade, professional or driver's licenses or motor vehicle registrations held by the noncustodial parent.
- Refer the case to the U.S. Department of State for denial of the noncustodial parent's passport.
- Seize funds from bank accounts, business or personal property or any lump-sum payments and lottery winnings received by the noncustodial parent.
- Intercept state and federal tax refunds, insurance claims, Worker's Compensation or Unemployment Compensation or payments received by the noncustodial parent.
- Report the noncustodial parent's past-due child support debt to credit reporting agencies.
- Seek civil contempt of court. The court may order the noncustodial parent incarcerated until the child support debt is paid.
- Send the case to a collection agency.
State and federal law, as well as the policies and procedures DOR has adopted to implement the law, also govern the collection and distribution of child support payments. Customers may not determine how payments will be allocated when more than one child or more than one family is owed support. (Please see the section titled "Allocation of Support Collections".)
In all proceedings, DOR represents the Department of Revenue in furtherance of the Commonwealth's interest in determining parentage and securing financial support for the children involved. DOR does not represent either parent. We are required to present all relevant facts to a court regardless of which parent those facts may benefit. We strive to treat both parents fairly, equitably and with respect in all dealings.
We are committed to helping parents and children secure the child support to which they are entitled. Because our caseloads are high, there may be times when it may not be possible to devote as much individual attention to your case as you or DOR would like. We will conduct periodic reviews, contact other agencies for updates and notify you of major developments. If there are times you feel DOR is not as effective as you would like, you always have the option of hiring your own attorney or private investigator or proceeding on your own (this is called proceeding "pro se"). If you proceed on your own, you must plan for the court hearing and make sure that you have the proof you need for your case. Remember, you must tell us immediately if the court makes a change to your child support order. Private counsel may be able to provide you with individualized attention that DOR cannot. DOR and private counsel can work in partnership to maximize the strengths of each in ensuring that the child support enforcement system serves your needs. (Please see "Will DOR counsel represent me?")
Allocation of support collections:
- Current support paid first: Except for federal tax refund intercepts which must be applied only to past-due support, our system applies payments first to current support and then to past-due support.
- More than one family: More than one family may be entitled to a parent's support payments. If a parent must support children in more than one household, DOR must allocate support payments among all the households first to the current support due and then to any past-due support owed. If we collect less than the full amount owed for all households, the amount collected is distributed in proportion to the amount of the current support owed.
Payment method: Whenever possible, DOR collects support by income withholding, that is, by automatically deducting child support from the noncustodial parent's paycheck in accordance with the employer's payroll cycle.
2. What are my responsibilities?
As a DOR customer, you must cooperate with us and provide us with the information necessary to process your case. If you do not cooperate with us, DOR may close your case. (Please see "Can DOR close my case?" ) While we may have access to a great deal of information about the other parent, you know the other parent better than we do. In order to process your case most effectively, we rely heavily on the information you provide.
- Status: You must keep us informed of the status of your case by giving us notice before you enter into any agreement, waiver, stipulation or modification that would affect your child support, and you must provide us with copies of these papers. (Please see "Will DOR counsel represent me?")
- Direct Payments: Once we open a case for you, all child support payments must be made through DOR. If you are the custodial parent, you must not accept child support payments directly from the noncustodial parent. We have the right to close your case if you accept direct payments. If you are the noncustodial parent, you must not send your child support payments directly to the custodial parent. If direct payments are made, we will have no record of the payments and we will conclude that the other parent is delinquent and we will take enforcement actions to collect the child support.
- Current Information: You must notify us if you change your:
- Social Security number;
- Driver's license number;
- Home or cell phone number;
- Employer; or
- Your employer's address or telephone number changes.
You should always provide accurate information to the best of your ability. If you fail to inform us of your whereabouts and we lose contact with you, you may not receive timely notice of any actions taken on your case to modify or enforce your court order and we may close your case.
- Maintain and check child support records:
- If you receive child support payments through DOR, you have an obligation to review and verify the information on checks, statements and other documents you receive from us to confirm that your name, address, Social Security number and any other information is accurate. You also have an obligation to notify us if there appears to be an error.
- Keep accurate records of all child support payments. Record each payment you make or receive each month.
- Save check stubs showing deductions from your pay for child support or save your cancelled checks if you pay child support by check.
- Keep all documents related to your child support in a file or other container and organize them in a logical way (such as by date). Be sure to make copies of any letters you send or receive from us, even if they seem unimportant at the time, and keep them with your records.
- Cooperation: In order for us to provide services on your case, you may have to:
- Sign complaints and affidavits.
- Appear in court.
- Appear for paternity testing.
- Provide information, including financial information, about yourself and the other parent.
- Overpayments: It is your obligation to review and verify the payment amounts you receive from us. If the amount of a payment appears to be in error, you must notify us immediately. Should you receive a payment in error, DOR may retain any subsequent collections or a portion of them to repay the amount paid to you in error. We will notify you if an error occurs and will contact you regarding repayment of the amount paid in error.
- Safety Concerns: You should inform us of any family violence issues or concerns. If you have any concerns that child support services will put you or your children's safety at risk, please call us to discuss available options.
3. What information can DOR disclose?
Federal and state law protects the confidentiality of any personal information DOR has about you and your family. We are committed to protecting your privacy and keeping information about your case confidential to the extent permitted by law. At the same time, some laws require sharing of certain information. For example, all states provide case information and have access to the Federal Case Registry which maintains information on child support cases to help collect support when the parents live in different states.
If anything about child support enforcement services causes you to fear for your safety or the safety of your children, please call us at 800-332-2733 or 617-660-1234 to discuss your safety issues and the options available to you.
DOR may need to provide information from your case file:
- To the other parent in your case and to other agencies or persons who work cooperatively with us for purposes of providing child support enforcement services to you. Such agencies include the Department of Transitional Assistance, MassHealth, district attorneys, constables, court personnel, child support enforcement agencies in other states, paternity testing laboratories and other private companies under contract with DOR/CSE to provide child support enforcement services.
- In connection with the filing of any documents in court. Most documents filed with the court require us to include your name and address.
- In connection with any investigation, prosecution or proceedings concerning child support enforcement, the administration of public assistance, or suspected instances of physical or sexual abuse or neglect of a child.
Social Security numbers:
DOR is authorized by law to use parents' and children's Social Security numbers in providing child support services. When we provide services to you, we must use your Social Security number.
4. Will DOR counsel represent me?
A DOR attorney represents the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Department of Revenue as the Commonwealth's child support enforcement agency and does not represent you personally. DOR attorneys represent the Department of Revenue in furtherance of the Commonwealth's interest in determining parentage and securing financial and medical support for the children involved. The attorneys do not represent either the custodial or noncustodial parent or the child. In court proceedings, DOR attorneys are required to present all relevant facts regardless of which parent those facts may benefit. DOR attorneys have an obligation to their client - DOR, a public agency with finite resources - to allocate litigation resources in a balanced and efficient manner so as to benefit the greatest number of children in need of services and to further the Commonwealth's public policy to ensure that children are supported by their parents and not the taxpayer. If we assign an attorney to your case, the attorney will provide those services on your case that we determine to be appropriate.
Because DOR does not represent individual parents, there is no attorney-client relationship. We may provide child support enforcement services to both parents in a case. In addition, because there is no attorney-client privilege, our attorneys are required to report suspected instances of welfare or tax fraud.
You may retain private counsel to represent you personally, and DOR will cooperate with your attorney as long as you keep us informed of all activities related to your child support case.
5. How can I terminate services?
You may ask DOR to stop providing services and close your case. If you wish to close your case, call us at 800-332-2733 or 617-660-1234. We will review your case to determine if it is appropriate for closure. We will not close your case if:
- You are the custodial parent and you or the children receive public assistance (TAFDC or Medicaid);
- There is money still due to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for any period you received public assistance (TAFDC); or
- You have not repaid payments made to you in error.
If you want to reopen your case, you must reapply for services.
Note: The law requires that all child support orders that require child support to be paid by income withholding be collected by DOR. Even if DOR is not providing full child support services, DOR must continue to collect payments from an employer if the court ordered support paid by income withholding. The only service we will provide is to send a bill to the employer and send payments from the employer to the parent to whom the child support is owed. DOR will not enforce the child support order if payments are not made.
6. Can DOR close my case?
Under certain circumstances DOR may also close your case. We will do so if you fail to cooperate with our staff. For example, we may close your case if you fail to appear in court when necessary or fail to provide information about yourself and the other parent. Also, if you fail to inform us of your whereabouts and we lose contact with you, we may close your case. Additionally, we may close your case if you accept direct payments from the noncustodial parent. (Please see " What are my responsibilities?")
Before we take any action to close your case, we will send you a letter. The letter will explain that we are considering closing your case, why we propose to do so, and will offer you an opportunity to respond. If you still fail to meet the expectations, DOR will close your case and notify you that we have done so.