This page explains how child support collection works in Maine. The law and the process are different in every state. If your case is not in Maine, don't use this information – find resources in your state. If you get any notices about Maine DHHS setting or collecting support, read them carefully. If you disagree with them, you may request a hearing within the time limits given in the Notice
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
Support Enforcement will direct you to the agent assigned to your case or to someone who can answer your questions.
Maine Lawyer Referral Service
1-800-860-1460 or 622-1460 (local)
This service will refer you to a private attorney for a $25 fee. The first half-hour of advice is free.
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.
How Does the DHHS Support Hearing Process Work?
Step One: Notice
DHHS will serve you with a "Notice Of Proceeding To Establish A Support Order." You will also get a "Statement of Income" form.
Step Two: Fill out the Form
You must complete and return the "Statement of Income" form within 30 days.
Step Three: Calculation of support
DHHS will wait 30 days to get your "Statement of Income" and then calculate your support obligation. It is important that you return your completed "Statement of Income" form. If you do not, DHHS will assume that your earnings are equal to the average weekly wage of a Maine worker. DHHS will calculate your child support using that amount instead of your actual income. DHHS can also adjust this up or down if they get any reliable information showing your actual earnings.
Step Four: Proposed Support Order
DHHS will send you a "Proposed Support Order." The proposed order is DHHS's calculation of what you owe for support. It can include current support, past support, and an obligation to provide health insurance. DHHS will use the Child Support Guidelines and any income information that is available to figure these amounts. You should also get a copy of the Child Support Worksheet DHHS used to calculate your support.
Step Five: Request a Hearing
If you disagree with the Proposed Support Order, send a written request for a hearing to DHHS within 30 days of the date the Proposed Order was mailed. If you don’t ask for a hearing in that time period, DHHS will adopt the Proposed Order.
Step Six: DHHS Hearing
Your notice of hearing will tell you to send a statement within 10 days, listing any support you have provided over the past six years. If you plan to claim these credits against any past debt, send the letter within 10 days. If you don't send it, the hearing officer may not let you submit this information at the hearing or may continue the hearing to give the Department time to review your claim for credit.
How do I prepare for the hearing?
Be prepared for all three issues that will be considered at the hearing:
- the amount of the debt for past support
- your current support obligation
- your responsibility for health care for the child
The best preparation is to do your own child support calculation. For instructions, use our pamphlet Support and Debt for Past Support: How Much Do I Owe?
What do I bring to the hearing?
Bring all the information that you need to figure out your current weekly child support and your debt for past support. This evidence can be documents, your testimony, and statements of witnesses. Bring any information you can get to show whether you can get health insurance through an employee or group plan and how much it would cost.
Here is a sample checklist of evidence you could bring with you to the hearing:
Proof of Your Income
Bring records of your income like check stubs, income tax returns, or a statement from your employer. If you expect your income to go up or down, bring evidence of that. Bring evidence of your income during the period of time you may owe past support - DHHS can go back 6 years. If you can't get evidence of past income, tell DHHS and explain why. Otherwise, the hearing officer may decide that your income was the average weekly wage of a Maine worker.
Receipt of Public Assistance
If you received TANF or SSI (for you or your child), you should have no debt for past support during the time that you got those benefits. Your obligation to pay support is suspended while you are receiving TANF or SSI for yourself or the state supplement to SSI for your child. The parent who is owed the support may ask a court or DHHS to lift the suspension and order you to pay some support.If you are getting help from any low-income program, DHHS should not count that as part of your income. Bring a statement from the office that gave you assistance showing when you received help and whether you are still receiving it.
If you plan to claim that the Child Support Guidelines should not be used, bring evidence to support your claim. For example, if you claim that you will be unable to pay your basic necessities, bring a list of your income and expenses, together with pay stubs (or proof of other income) and household bills to show that you will not be able to make ends meet.
If you have any unusual expenses, like high medical costs, bring records of these to the hearing. If you are unemployed or are unable to work for any reason, be prepared to tell the hearing officer about it. If you have a disability, bring doctors' reports or other proof of your disability.
Ask DHHS to give you the most recent federal poverty guideline. If your income is below the poverty level, tell the hearing officer. Your current support payment should not be more than 10% of your income.
Other Children You Support
If you have an order to provide support for other children, bring a copy. If you have other biological or adopted children at home to care for, tell the hearing officer how many and what ages they are. If you can, bring their birth certificates. If you pay for their child care or if they have high medical expenses, bring any records you have.
Support You Gave Your Children in the Past
DHHS can set a debt for past support owed. DHHS can go back 6 years from the date you got the Notice (in Step 1 above). Any support you gave your children while you were not living with them over the past six years should be credited against your debt for past support. You may want to ask the other parent to come to the hearing to tell the hearing officer what you have provided. Other evidence could be:
- receipts or cancelled checks showing that you paid bills or bought things for your children
- cancelled checks made out to the other parent
- a written statement from the other parent of what you provided and when you provided it.
- If you gave the other parent the house or the family car, bring any documents, such as the deed or title, showing your ownership. Bring an estimate (from a car rental or real estate agency) of the fair rental value of the car or house. Do the same for any other things you own that you gave to the family to use. You may not get credit for these things, but it is worth bringing them up.
If you are going to claim these credits, send a letter to DHHS within 10 days of receiving the notice of hearing. List all the support you provided that you want to get credit for. If you forget to send this letter, the DHHS Hearing Officer may not let you claim the credits at the hearing, but you should try.
The Income (other than TANF) of the Other Parent
If the other parent has received TANF, DHHS should tell you what other income that parent had. If the other parent is not on TANF, ask them to bring all income records to the hearing. The other parent's non-TANF income will affect your child support payment. You can read more about this in: Support and Debt for Past Support: How Much Do I Owe?
Whether You Can Provide Health Insurance For Your Children At Reasonable Cost
Bring a statement from your employer about whether you can get insurance for your children through a group insurance or employee plan. Get a statement of cost.
Evidence of when the children lived with you
You should not be charged with a past debt for times that your child lived with you. Caution: If you have been court-ordered to pay support in the past, and your child comes to live with you, you must get the court order changed right away. Your support obligation continues until this court order is changed.
You may want people (like the other parent) to be at the hearing. If they are willing to go, just tell them the time and place. If they won't agree to go, or if they need to show their employer that they must go, ask the DHHS hearings office to issue a "witness subpoena." This subpoena requires the witness to go to the hearing. Do this at least two weeks before the hearing. If you need a subpoena, contact the DHS hearing office at:
DHHS Office of Administrative Hearings
35 Anthony Avenue
11 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0011
Telephone: 287-3610 TTY: (800) 606-0215
Should I meet with DHHS before the hearing?
You may want to meet with the DHHS support worker ahead of time, to see if you can agree on any issues. If you are able to agree on some or all issues, at the hearing, tell the Hearing Officer what you have agreed to and why.
What happens at the hearing?
The hearing will include a Hearing Officer, a DHHS support worker, maybe the other parent, and any witnesses who have been asked to be there. The Hearing Officer is like a judge; they run the hearing and decide the case. The hearing will be tape-recorded and you will testify under oath. This hearing is probably your only chance to give evidence about your past and present income and any other facts that should be considered in setting your support obligations.
Usually the DHHS worker will present evidence first. Then you can ask them any questions you might have. Next, you present your own evidence and opinion about what you think the current support and past debt should be. If the caseworker says something that you disagree with, when it is your turn, speak up and explain your side of the story. The Hearing Officer will control who speaks when but should allow everyone to make their points. If you don't understand what is happening, ask the Hearing Officer to explain.
The DHHS worker and the Hearing Officer have a book of rules they must follow. Both before and during the hearing, you can ask to see those rules.
After the hearing, the Hearing Officer will write a decision based on the evidence presented at the hearing and mail it to you.
What if I think the decision is wrong?
A few weeks after the hearing, you will get a copy of the Hearing Officer's decision. Read it carefully. Unless you have no countable income or your obligation to pay support is suspended because you get public assistance, the decision will say that you have an obligation to pay support. It will set the amount of current support and of any debt you owe for past support. It will also say whether you must provide health coverage. If health coverage is ordered, the notice will tell you to send written proof to DHHS that you have gotten coverage within 15 days of getting the decision. The decision will also have an Order for Immediate Income Withholding. This orders your employer to withhold the support amount from your wage and send it to DHHS. If you don't understand the decision, call your DHHS worker.
If you think the Hearing Officer's decision is wrong, you may appeal by asking for an "administrative appeal." The decision will tell you how to appeal. If you disagree, you must make a written request for an appeal within 30 days of getting the decision. You must include a sworn affidavit (statement) saying why you believe the hearing officer was wrong. If you ask for it, DHHS will give you with a hearing request form and a review affidavit form.
Mail your hearing request and review affidavit to:DHHS Hearings Coordinator
Division of Support Enforcement
11 State House Station
Augusta, Me 04333-0011
Within seven days of receiving your hearing request and affidavit, DHHS should send you notice of the date, time, and place of your appeal hearing. The notice will be sent by certified or registered mail. Generally, the hearing will be held between 15 and 30 days after DHHS receives your appeal.
If you appeal, you have the right to a hearing before a different hearing officer on the issues you have raised in your appeal request and affidavit. You will not be allowed to present new evidence. But, you can argue that information you offered at the first hearing was wrongly excluded.
If you disagree with the second hearing officer's decision, you have the right to appeal to the Maine Superior Court. This appeal must be filed within 30 days. Talk to a lawyer right away, if you haven’t already.