Often I am asked questions about how Minnesota divorce courts handle the issue of past due child support. The language used to describe late, past due, and child support arrearages is not always applied consistently. My understanding is that the term “past due” child support refers to an unpaid child support obligation, and the term “child support arrearage” (or “child support arrears”) refers to unpaid child support in an amount that is the subject of a court order, something that is called an “arrearage order.” https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=518A.53
Here’s the difference: child support arrears, that is, unpaid child support that has been identified in a court order, is subject to repayment at the rate of 20% of the ongoing child support obligation. In other words, if a person is paying $1,000 each month for ongoing child support, he or she will also be required to pay 20% of that amount, or $200, to pay off the child support arrears. So, if one owed $2,000 in child support arrears, he or she would have ten months in which he or she paid both $1,000 per month for ongoing child support, plus $200 per month towards the $2,000 arrears.
Keep in mind that child support arrears generate interest at the judgment rate. The “judgement rate” is the interest rate established by the state court administrator pursuant to Minn. Stat. Sec. 549.09. In 2011, the judgment rate for child support arrears is 4% per year, unless the debt owed is greater than $50,000. In that event, the judgment rate is 10%. In the above-example, it would actually take longer than 10 months to pay off the $2,000 arrears because the arrearage is accruing interest at 4% per year.
There are a variety of remedies that the public child support collection authority can use to collect child support arrears. They can “shame” the obligor (“obligor” is the fancy legal term used to describe the person who owes the money) into paying by publishing his or her name publicly, on posters, in media presentations, and on-line. I am not a big fan of this. I think it is akin to the Pilgrims placing people in stocks in the public square. The problem is, children are smart. They know that in some sense they are one-half “Mom” and one-half “Dad.” When their parent is identified by name and publicly ridiculed, that impacts the child. Children want to believe that both of their parents are good, and are willing to forgive a significant amount of bad behavior just so they can have a relationship (even if only in their mind) with both parents. Unfortunately, the ghouls who inhabit the Minnesota legislature lose sight of that fact.
The collection authority can also suspend the driver’s license of a child support obligor with unpaid arrears. This way, the obligor cannot drive to work and cannot hope to earn enough money to pay child support arrearages. This is a very clever tactic on the part of the public authority. It pretty much insures that child support arrears will never be paid.
The collection authority can also suspend recreational licenses (fishing licenses, hunting licenses) and it can suspend professional licenses. And, it can also have the person who does not pay arrears arrested and confined to jail as part of a contempt proceeding.
If you owe past due child support or child support arrears, you should consult with an attorney.