Fighting Back for Unpaid Child Support

How 12 months of unpaid child support could disappear

Many parents collecting child support know how important those payments can be to their children. When support payments are not received, the children suffer the most. Our state performs well on support collection; however, there are the exceptions. One Pennsylvania woman is fighting back against state regulations for unpaid child support owed to her by her untraceable ex-partner.

Owed more than $26,000 in unpaid child support, the Scranton woman is dismayed and frustrated that the system decided to drop efforts to collect from her ex-partner. The ex, who is no model citizen, was jailed twice in the past three years as a result of skipping out on payments. She is due $700 per month for three children, and their father has virtually disappeared after his most recent release in July 2012. A bench warrant was issued shortly after that time, but he has not resurfaced.

Because of his ability to dodge authorities, the state is calling upon a particular of the PA support guidelines to drop collection efforts (Rule 1910.19 - Support. Modification. Termination. Guidelines as Substantial Change in Circumstances. Overpayments.) for unpaid child support as they are deemed futile. This part of the guideline delineates at what point these efforts may cease, and in which cases. The rule dictates that in any active case, where the noncustodial parent has gone twelve months without making a payment, may qualify for closure. Particularly as long as there are no pending court proceedings or requests for modification.

The woman in this case was undoubtedly shocked to hear that there would be no effort to collect future payments, and no accountability for the arrears of unpaid child support. Without her consent, the case was closed on the notion that the noncustodial parent has no income, assets, and it is likely that their situation would not change in the foreseeable future.

Regarding this case, the director of the state Department of Public Welfare's Office of Child Support Enforcement indicated that the regulation was developed to avoid turning the system into a debtor's prison. This regulation was borne of two Supreme Court cases which involved fathers who were in prison for extensive periods of time and whose support obligations were mounting. Considered a lost cause for inability to pay, appellate court cases have held that it is not possible to jail someone simply because they have no source of money. It would be ideal for every custodial parent to receive support, but realistically may not be possible depending upon the other parent.

Of course, this type of situation raises many concerns for custodial parents seeking payments from obligors. Since its inception in 2006, the regulation in question falls under guidelines for the modification or termination of support orders. PASCES is the system that meticulously tracks unpaid child support and automates collection efforts. This system generates notices to the county in which the action exists; in these extreme cases, it would be up to the local office to determine the closure.

This closure may be contested by the custodial parent, who bears the burden of proof to show that the ex-partner has the income or employment to pay support. Only a very small percentage of cases in Pennsylvania have been closed out since 2006, about 1.4 percent, to address extreme cases. This is out of the 2.6 million child support cases in the state since the regulation came into existence.

Worried that this will set a new precedent, the Pennsylvania woman is working with support groups and local legal gurus to combat the closure. She is concerned that she will have great difficulty in proving income, as the obligor on the run has a history of making money under the table.

To prevent the loss of money due in collections, each case is carefully review by a judge who ultimately issues the order for closure. The counties are monitored for consistency to ensure that cases are researched and pursued as much as possible. The cases can also be reinstated if the individual is found to have a source of income.

Luckily, this is not a common occurrence; however, there are always cases of obligors seeking to reduce or avoid making their child support payments. Firmly drawn out and made an order, it is in no one's interest to test the PASCES system. For more on this case, visit

If you are dealing with a child support matter, call our office at (215) 942-2100 to speak with an experienced Bucks county support and family lawyer.