DHHS can collect child support for you. They can also help set up child support orders. They can help even if you or the children don't receive TANF or other public benefits.
DHHS may be able to help you if:
- You are owed child support under a court order.
- You don’t have a child support order, but want to start getting child support.
If you are receiving TANF benefits and have children, you may already be getting these services. You can call DHHS and find out if there is a case open for you. For more information, visit: 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 the child lives with is usually entitled to child support from the other parent. The "primary care provider is the parent the child lives with. The “non-primary care provider” is a parent that the child does not live with.
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.
What services does DHHS offer?
DHHS offers two kinds of services:
- "Limited services"
- "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 "full services" can DHHS provide?
DHHS can help establish parentage if:
- You had a child when you weren't married, and
- The other biological parent has not signed the birth certificate or signed an "acknowledgment of paternity."
Note: DHHS calls the form an "acknowledgment of paternity," but it is used for a person to acknowledge that they are a parent of a child. To learn more about "parentage" visit our guide to the Maine Parentage Act.
DHHS can help establish the other biological parent as a legal parent. A support order can't be set until parentage is established.
There are several ways a person can be a legal parent of a child. Under the Maine Parentage Act a child could have more than two parents legally responsible to pay child support. DHHS can help with this.
Get a child support order
A court or DHHS can order child support. DHHS can help either in court or in their own administrative process.
Change a child support order
If you think the amount you are owed in your child support order needs to be changed, you can ask DHHS for help. They can help you modify (update or change) both court orders and administrative orders of support.
If you already have a child support order, you can ask DHHS to collect the support for you.
What can DHHS do to collect support?
The Income Withholding Order
Almost all child support orders include something called an "Immediate Order of Income Withholding." This order can be served on the parent’s employer. Their employer will then have to withhold child support from their wages and send it to DHHS. Then DHHS will send the money to you.
This order can be used to collect past-due support AND current support. It can also be used to collect money owed from places other than wages. For example, owed child support could be collected from a pension.
NOTE: If you get TANF, or have received AFDC or TANF in the past, you should ask how the support will be distributed. DHHS may be able 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
DHHS has other methods of collecting support. The paying parent will be notified, no matter how child support is collected. They will have the chance to object to the money being collected. They will need to explain why they did not owe the amount taken or why they are exempt from the collection action.
An "Order to Withhold and Deliver"
DHHS can send this order to anyone who has money that belongs to the paying parent. The order required them to send the money owed to DHHS This order is often used to collect money from bank accounts or insurance claims owed to the paying parent.
DHHS can take property of the paying parent, sell it, and use the money to pay a child support debt. DHHS has the authority to take and sell some property without having to go to court first.
Revoking Occupational and Driver’s Licenses
DHHS can revoke the driver’s license or occupational license of someone who has fallen behind on their child support.
Disclosure of Income and Order to Seek Work
DHHS has the power to order parents to come to a DHHS office and show them their income and assets. If the parent claims they can’t pay child support DHHS can try to get an "Order to Seek Work" from a court. This would order the parent who owes child support to search for work and report back to DHHS. This 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 this will convince 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 on their website.
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. 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 send payments within two days of collecting the money.
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.
DHHS handles a huge number of child support cases. You may find that doing the work yourself or hiring an attorney is the better choice for you.
If you do not have your own lawyer, DHHS may be your next best option. DHHS is often successful in collecting payment of child support.
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 are free to use the court system on your own to establish and enforce a child support order. Learn more about doing this yourself: How To: Change or Enforce Your Maine Divorce or Parental Rights Order. You can also hire a lawyer to do the work for you. These cases can be hard to do on your own. It is worth your time to check out if DHHS can offer the help you need.
Updated July, 2017
PTLA # 382