Child Support and Debt Due for Past Support
What is this information and how will it help me?
This information is for parents who are being pursued by Maine DHHS for payment of child support, especially when there is no order of child support. It will help you prepare for your DHHS Support Hearing.
If there is already a child support order and DHHS is trying to collect past support, or if DHHS issued a child support order in the past and your circumstances have changed, please see What Can DHHS Do To Make Me Pay? We also have pages on these related topics:
- DHHS is trying to get me to pay child support, but I don't know if I'm a parent
- How to figure your child support obligation
- What DHHS can do to collect support
These materials do not cover other areas of family law like divorce, visitation, or custody. They do not cover cases where the other parent is suing you for child support. This information is not a substitute for legal counsel. If you need to know more about your specific DHHS child support case or need legal advice in a related family law matter, check the list of resources below.
Family Law Resources
Department of Health and Human Services
Support Enforcement will direct you to the agent assigned to your case or to someone who can answer your questions.
Maine Lawyer Referral Service
1-800-8601460 or 622-1460 (local)
You pay a $25 administrative fee for the referral. The attorney they refer you to will not charge for the first 30 minutes of a consultation but will charge standard fees for any substantive work or for lengthier consultations.
What does the law say about a parent’s duty to support?
State law requires all parents to support their children. It does not matter if the parents were ever married. If you do not live with your children, you will probably be required to send regular child support payments to the parent or other person who is caring for your child. This duty continues until your children are 18 years old or, if a child is still in high school, until they are 19. You can also be required to pay health care costs, including health insurance, and child care costs.
Why is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) involved in child support?
Federal and state law requires DHHS to collect child support for two groups of families:
- Families that receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Families that do not receive TANF, but ask DHHS to help collect the support.
When DHHS collects support for TANF families, it gives part of the support to the family and keeps the rest to pay back the State for some or all of the TANF paid. DHHS sends current support collected for non-TANF families to the family. DHHS can charge you a $2 per pay period fee for the collection service. In a case involving a person who has never gotten public assistance, DHHS can also charge a $25 annual fee if it collects at least $500 in support.
What is decided at the DHHS Hearing?
If there is no order setting child support and no question about parentage, DHHS will hold an administrative hearing (learn more about the DHHS hearing process). At the hearing, DHHS can decide:
- What you owe for past support, including what you owe DHHS for TANF and MaineCare paid for your children, and what you owe to the other parent;
- The amount of the on-going weekly support obligation; and
- Whether you must provide health care for the children
What is my debt for Past Support?
If you have a child you have not paid support for in the past, you probably owe past support. That support can be owed to the other parent or to any agency (usually DHHS) or person who has supported your child. Usually, you will owe DHHS for any period when the other parent got TANF or MaineCare for the child. The debt can go back as far as six years before the date of the Notice of Hearing. The debt cannot cover more than that six-year period.
Figuring the Debt
The amount of debt for past support is the amount of support you should have paid during the time you were responsible for paying support. DHHS should do this calculation using the Child Support Guidelines (described below). In applying the Guidelines, DHHS should use actual income amounts for the period you owe past support for.
A mother and her 10-month old child get $300 per month in TANF for the 10 months before the hearing. The total TANF paid was $3,000 ($300 x 10 months). If DHHS finds that your support payments for those 10 months should have been $25 per week, then your total debt due the department will be $1,075 ($25 x 43 weeks (10 months)), even if your income has gone up or down since those 10 months.
If the family did not receive TANF, your debt to the mother for past support is still $1,075.
Credits to reduce the Debt
If you provided any support during the time you owe past support for, the hearing officer should subtract that amount from your debt. You must tell the Department in writing of your claims for a credit within 10 days of the day you get the Notice of Hearing. Then bring any proof of payment you have (like cancelled checks, payment log, or receipts) to the hearing. Types of support that the hearing officer should give you credit for include:
- Money you have already paid to DHHS.
- Money for child support you paid directly to the other parent. (DHHS may refuse to credit this money if it was paid to the family after you were told to pay it to DHHS.)
- Things of value you gave to the family. For example, paying bills or providing food or other things of value should be credited. If you own the family home and gave it to your family to live in after you left, you should get credit for the fair rental value of the home. The same would be true if you gave the family your car to use. DHHS may claim that you cannot get this credit after you got notice that all support must be sent to DHHS. Try to claim the credit anyway. It is not the type of support that can be sent to the State.
Receipt of Public Assistance
If you have gotten TANFor SSI in the past, you do not owe any debt during for the time that you were getting those benefits.
If you are now getting TANF or SSI for your children, or SSI for yourself, DHHS can only collect on certain "lump sum" income. A custodial parent can ask a court or DHHS to limit this rule and allow the collection of some child support.
Preventing the Debt
The best way to avoid debt for past support is to arrange to pay child support as soon as your child stops living with you. If your children are getting TANF, make arrangements to pay child support to DHHS as soon as you learn that your children are getting benefits. Ask DHHS to set your support as soon as possible so that you know exactly how much you owe. For the time before your support order is set, ask for an account number, an address to pay the support to, and a statement of the amount of support DHHS believes you should pay.
DHHS is required to tell you if your children get TANF.The notice may say that you should pay any child support to the State instead of to your children. After you receive this notice, DHHS may refuse to give you any credit for the support that you give directly to your family. To be sure to get credit, pay your support directly to the State.
If your children get TANF, another good reason for starting to pay the State right away is that your children will get some or all of the support that you pay on time to the State. If you are paying a past debt for TANF, the State will keep all of the money and your children will never see it. If you are paying current support on a regular basis, some of the money will be passed through to your children each month.
Always keep records of all the support that you pay to either the State or your family. Sometimes the State makes mistakes. You need to be able to prove how much you paid if there is any disagreement.
How do I figure my Weekly Child Support Amount
DHHS will set your weekly child support using Maine's Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines use a table (the Maine Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligation) that shows the weekly amount owed based on the combined income of both parents. DHHS will presume you should pay support according to this table.
Using the Child Support Guidelines
To do the calculations, you must fill out two forms. The first is the Child Support Affidavit. The second is the Child Support Worksheet. You will need the information from the Affidavit, and from the other parent's Affidavit, to fill out the Child Support Worksheet. You can get the forms from any district court clerk or DHHS office.
If you don't have a copy of the other parent's completed Affidavit, ask DHHS to give it to you. If they won't, write to the DHHS hearing officer and ask that the other parent be served with a subpoena requiring them to bring the information to the hearing. If you don't have the other parent's Affidavit available to you, you can use your best estimate to fill out the Affidavit for the other parent. This will at least help you estimate the amount of support that you owe.
We have prepared some samples, so that you can see how to fill out the forms. NOTE: The dollar amounts on these samples are a little out of date, but they will still give you a good idea of how the calculations work.
Sample Child Support Affidavit for Primary Care Provider
Sample Child Support Affidavit for Non-Primary Care Provider
Sample Child Support Worksheet
Sample Highlighted Child Support Table (scroll down; relevant dollar amounts highlighted in orange)
To help show you how to fill out the forms yourself, the sample forms linked above have been filled out for a pretend family in the following example. If you get confused, you may want to get help from DHHS or from a lawyer. We also provide an automated Child Support Worksheet form here. This will give you some idea of the amount of ongoing support DHHS will order, based on the Guildlines chart and Maine child support rules.
There are 3 children who live with their mother during the week. The mother's total gross income for this year is $10,000. She pays $100 per week in child-care for the two younger children. One child has diabetes, which costs $50 per week in medical supplies that are not covered by insurance. The mother pays $10 per week for health insurance for herself.
The father's total gross income for this year is $25,000. He pays $3,000 a year in child support for children from an earlier relationship. The father also pays weekly health insurance premiums of $30 of which $20 is for the children.
Using the Worksheet, the family's combined adjusted gross income is $32,000. The mother's share is 31%. The father's share is 69%. The Child Support Guidelines show a weekly support amount of $71. Then the worksheet adds in the child care, medical expenses, and health insurance costs to find a total weekly support amount of $383.
The support amount is then divided between the parents, based on the percentage of income that they have contributed to their combined adjusted gross income. The father must pay a weekly amount of $244 ($383 x .69 minus the $20 that the father pays per week in health insurance premiums for the children and rounded to the nearest dollar).
It is assumed that the mother provides her share ($118.73) because she cares for the children most of the time. The father must pay his share to the mother. This includes his share of the weekly child care and extraordinary medical expenses that she pays directly.
What if my income is very low and I can't afford to pay?
If your children live most of the time with the other parent and your income is very low, look at the Table to see if your income falls within the gray area at the low end of the chart. If your income is in this lowest range, then find your support amount on the Table using only your annual gross income (not both parents' combined income).
Your annual gross income is $12,600. You have two children, age 5 and age 13. You are not the "primary care provider." Your basic support obligation would be $30 per week ($15 x two children). See the yellow highlighted figures on the chart. You will still add to this amount your portion of child care and medical expenses (see example above).
Note: If your annual gross income is below the federal poverty level (this changes each year), then your support obligation is capped at 10% of your income. Sometime DHHS will increase this, based on what they think your potential earnings should be.
What if both parents are providing "substantially equal care?"
Where both parents provide “substantially equal care,” another calculation applies. If this is your situation, your child support calculation gets more complicated. You will need form FM-040A Supplemental Child Support Worksheet. If you still can’t figure this out, get help from a lawyer, or ask DHHS to do this extra calculation, if it applies.
If both you and the other parent have very low incomes, so that your children need TANF, you should get legal advice before entering into a “substantially equal care” situation. Such an arrangement could disqualify your children from getting TANF.
Am I responsible for Health Care?
You will be responsible for the health care costs of your children if health insurance is available to you at a "reasonable cost" through a group or employee insurance plan.
DHHS has written standards defining "reasonable cost." DHHS will look at what it would cost you to provide family coverage vs. self-only coverage. If the added cost is below their "reasonable cost" standard, DHHS will order you to buy the extra coverage. If you are exempt now, the order will say that you must provide health insurance for the children in the future, if it becomes available to you at a "reasonable cost."
If the hearing officer decides that you must provide health care, you must give written proof that you have gotten the insurance within 15 days of getting your support order. If you don't, DHHS can issue a Medical Support Notice. This order requires your employer to provide coverage for your children and to deduct the premiums from your earnings.
If you do not provide written proof of insurance, DHHS can also find you liable for any medical costs paid by DHHS or the custodial parent on behalf of the children.
DHHS can also determine what portion of uncovered medical expenses you are will be responsible for.
If your children are on TANF, they will be covered by MaineCare. Also, many children who do not get TANF can qualify for MaineCare.
Note: If you are low-income and DHHS orders that you cover health care expenses for a period when your child was getting MaineCare, contact Pine Tree Legal Assistance.
What If I disagree with the amount from the Child Support Table?
If you are worried about the amount of support shown by the Worksheet, the DHHS hearing officer may order a different amount. You must ask for a different amount and you must give a specific reason.
Reasons that the hearing officer will consider are listed in the Criteria For Deviating from Support Guidelines. If one of those reasons applies to you, tell the hearing officer how much you think you should pay and why your situation fits one of the reasons.
If you are "voluntarily unemployed or underemployed" and could be earning more money, DHHS can "deem" more income to you, setting a higher amount. DHHS might also try to deem extra income to you if you make less than the minimum wage. If you have a very low income and DHHS wants you to pay more than you can afford, try to get legal help.