Should I Use DHHS's Child Support Enforcement Services?
Information for Parents Not Receiving TANF
This page is for parents who:
- are owed child support or want to set up child support,
- are not currently receiving TANF, and
- who are trying to decide whether to use the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) support enforcement services.
DHHS has broad powers to enforce a parent's obligation to provide support for his or her children. They can also help people establish a support obligation for their children, whether or not they receive TANF or other public benefits. However, also be aware that DHHS handles a huge number of child support cases, and you may have other options. You may find that doing the work yourself or with an attorney through the court system is the better choice for you. On the other hand, DHHS may be your best resource, especially if you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you.
If you currently receive TANF, you are probably already getting these services. For more information, consult How Much Child Support Should I Get from DHHS (Information for TANF Families). If you are supposed to pay child support to DHHS, read our information for parents who owe support.
What types of support does DHHS collect?
All parents have an obligation to support their children. When parents do not live together, the parent with whom the child lives (the “primary care provider”) is usually entitled to child support from the other parent (the “non-primary care provider”). Child support can include:
- a weekly or bi-weekly cash payment,
- the purchase of health insurance coverage for the child, and
- reimbursement for child care costs and non-covered medical expenses.
DHHS can collect all of these types of support. They can also collect spousal support (alimony) but only if the court has ordered it along with child support and DHHS is also collecting that child support.
What range of services does DHHS offer?
You have two options: "limited services" and "full services."
If you ask for limited services, DHHS will only accept and disburse payments - and keep records of those payments.
If you ask for full services, DHHS can do a lot more. Read more details about "full services" below.
What other "full services" can DHHS provide?
DHHS can help to do these things:
- Establish paternity. This applies where a child was not conceived in marriage and the father has not signed the birth certificate or signed an acknowledgment of paternity. Then paternity will have to be established before a support order is set.
- Get a support order. Child support can be ordered by either a court or, if there is no court order of support, by DHHS in an administrative process. DHHS can help either in court or in the administrative process.
- Amend a support order. If you already have a support order but need the amount of the order changed, then you can ask DHHS for help. DHHS can assist to modify (update or change) both court orders and administrative orders of support.
- Collect support. If you already have a support order, you can ask DHHS to collect the support for you. Some of the methods that they can use to collect the support are described below.
What can DHHS do to collect support?
The Income Withholding Order
In almost every case where child support is ordered, an Immediate Order of Income Withholding will issue against the non-primary care provider. (The court can alter this, but it rarely does.) This order can be served on the parent’s employer, who is then required to withhold the support from the parent’s wages and send it to DHHS. Then DHHS must send the support to you (the primary care provider).
The Immediate Income Withholding Order can be used to collect past-due support as well as current support. It can also be used to collect from sources of income other than wages (such as pensions).
NOTE: If you get TANF or have received AFDC or TANF in the past, you should ask how the support will be distributed, as DHHS may be entitled to keep some of it. For more information, read How Much Child Support Should I Get from DHHS (Information for TANF Families).
Other Collection Methods
In addition to using the Immediate Income Withholding Order, DHHS has other methods of collecting support. With all of these methods, the paying parent will get notice and the opportunity to object and claim that he or she did not owe the amount taken or was in some way exempt from the collection action.
With all these methods, if you have never received AFDC or TANF, DHHS should send all the money to you. If you have received AFDC or TANF, check with DHHS or Pine Tree Legal Assistance to see how it should be distributed.
- An "Order to Withhold and Deliver." DHHS can send this order to anyone who has money belonging to the paying parent and order the money, up to the amount of debt owed, to be sent to DHHS. Typically this order is used to obtain such things as bank accounts or insurance claims owed to the paying parent.
- Seizing Property. DHHS has the power to take most property of the paying parent, sell it and use the money toward child support debt. DHHS has the authority to seize and sell property without having to go to court first.
- Revoking Occupational and Driver’s Licenses. DHHS has the power to revoke the driver’s license or occupational license of someone who has fallen behind on their support at least 60 days and has failed to maintain a written payment arrangement with DHHS.
- Disclosure of Income and Order to Seek Work. DHHS has the power to order debtor parents to come to a DHHS office and disclose their income and assets. If the parent claims an inability to pay support and if he or she has the ability to work and is not actively seeking work, then DHHS can seek an "Order to Seek Work" from a court, ordering the parent to search for work and report back to DHHS. This method can force disclosure of earnings from work "under the table."
- Seizure of Tax Refunds. Every year DHHS seizes both the state and federal tax refunds of most people who owe a debt for child support.
Sometimes just the threat of using one of these tactics will persuade a parent to start paying child support on a regular basis.
How can I apply for DHHS support collection services?
DHHS posts their application form online: You can also read more about their services at that web address.
Or call DHHS at: 624-4100.
What if I have problems with DHHS support collection?
DHHS does not have a specific grievance procedure for non-TANF clients. You can call DHHS at 624-7830 or 1-800-371-7179. You will get their “automated voice response system.” The system offers taped responses for the most frequently asked questions. Or, for more complicated questions, you can be forwarded to a person in the Case Review Unit. DHHS also provides an online questions form.
What are the disadvantages of using DHHS services?
You may have heard in the past that DHHS does not turn payments around quickly. This is no longer true. DHHS is required to disburse payments within two days of receipt.
Another issue to consider is that you will not control how DHHS enforces support. DHHS will use its best judgment as to what enforcement tools to use. This means that DHHS may not always take specific enforcement actions that you request.
On the other hand, if you do not have your own lawyer, DHHS may be your next best option.
NOTICE: On October 1, 2012 DHHS began charging a $25 per year service fee for support collections. (This fee applies only to parents who have never received AFDC or TANF.) The fee is deducted from support paid to DHHS but only after DHHS has already passed through $500 in support payments to the custodial parent during that federal fiscal year (October through September).
What if I don't want to use DHHS services?
You may always use the court system on your own, or with the help of a lawyer, to establish, amend or enforce a support obligation. Depending on the nature of your case, this can be hard to do on your own. However, for those who think they can proceed on their own, Pine Tree Legal Assistance does offer self-help information.
Updated September 2010; partially updated November 2012
PTLA # 382