Section Review

Child support legislation update

Patrick Finn is a member of the MBA Family Law Section and is a regional counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement.
Massachusetts General Laws chapter 119A provides that the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) is the single state agency designated to administer the child support enforcement program as required by Title IV, part D of the Social Security Act. (42 U.S.C. § 651 et seq.) On Dec. 8, 2005, Gov. Mitt Romney signed chapter 163 of the Acts of 2005 into law making changes to the child support enforcement program in Massachusetts. The changes will have a significant impact on the enforcement of child support orders impacting children and families in the commonwealth.

Perhaps the most significant change is the creation of child support arrest warrants pursuant to sections 44, 51, 52, 54 and 55 of chapter 163 of the Acts of 2005. These sections together create a child support arrest warrant. Currently, if a delinquent child support obligor fails to appear in court when summoned, the court may issue a capias, which directs deputy sheriffs and constables to take custody of the obligor and deliver him or her to the court issuing the capias. However, if they are unable to locate the obligor, the court cannot act and child support continues to go unpaid. The new legislation allows DOR to request a child support arrest warrant when efforts to serve the capias have been unsuccessful and there are arrears totaling six months of support. These warrants, like criminal arrest warrants, will be entered in the warrant management system allowing law enforcement officials throughout the commonwealth to make arrests and bring delinquent obligors to court to address their unpaid child support obligations.

Section 48 of chapter 163 provides a venue rule change in paternity cases brought pursuant to General Laws chapter 209C. This section will permit paternity cases to be brought in the same county as previous paternity cases between the same parents, even when parents have moved. The change is designed to help in the consolidation of cases involving the same family in the same court.

Since 1998, DOR has had an insurance claim payment intercept program in place. Under this program, before paying on a claim, insurers check a secure DOR Web site to see if a lien for past due child support exists and then facilitate payment of child support from the insurance payment. Section 53 of chapter 163 requires an amendment to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Massachusetts General Laws chapter 258 requiring public employers to check for a child support, tax or medical assistance lien before paying claims. Under current law, child support liens expire after six years. Section 45 of chapter 163 extends these liens to 10 years.

There are several court related changes in the legislation. Sections 41- 43, 47 and 49 permit DOR to proceed to obtain a child support order in public assistance cases when a custodial parent does not appear after notice, permits parents to petition the court to appear telephonically and require the court to proceed based on affidavit when a parent is incarcerated.

The legislative changes noted above are some of the child support enforcement enhancements in chapter 163 of the Acts of 2005 designed to assist families in collecting child support ordered by court on time and in full.

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