Child support is often one of the most hotly contested issues in a family law case. And calculations can be complex, making it surprisingly easy for less-than-scrupulous parents to fudge the financial numbers a bit. You have two options if you expect that your ex has fraudulently reported his income for child support purposes: You can take him back to court or you can report the matter to your state’s child support enforcement unit.
What Is Child Support Fraud?
Child support fraud most commonly refers to providing false information to the court regarding the amount of income upon which support is calculated. A custodial parent might try to claim that he earns less than he does so he receives more support; a noncustodial parent might do the same so his child support obligation is less.
Child support fraud can also mean that a parent is not using the money for the benefit of the children. Unfortunately, few if any states require custodial parents to prove, report or log what they spend their support money on, so this can be particularly difficult to prove.
How Support Is Calculated
To understand the most common form of fraud – misrepresentation of income – it helps to understand how the court arrives at child support figures. Income is not just what a parent earns in wages or salary. It also includes income from investments, a self-owned business and other sources. Most states require parents to submit written affidavits, detailing their incomes, expenses, assets and liabilities. The court uses this information to calculate the amount of child support.
The majority of states use the income shares model to calculate support. It uses both parents’ incomes because the combined income would have been available to the children if the family had remained intact. But some states use a percentage of income model that takes only the noncustodial parent’s income into consideration – a percentage of income based on how many children he must support.
How to Report Fraud
If you’ve been collecting child support through your state's child support enforcement unit, or CSEU, so that your ex pays the agency and then forwards the money to you – you already have an open case file. If you don’t have an open case, you can sign up for state services to seek their assistance. Make contact with your caseworker and explain your concerns, ideally in writing. The CSEU can schedule a review of the matter, called a review and adjustment process in some states. Both you and your ex will most likely be asked to provide current income documentation.
Unfortunately, this process may take a while. Most states devote a lot of funding and manpower to making sure children get all the financial support they deserve, but they serve thousands of families so progress can be slow. You may want to go to the court for help as well. File a motion with the court that ordered your child support, bringing the problem to the attention of a judge. You might need the help of an attorney or legal aid for this, but the child support enforcement units in many states will file a motion on your behalf if they find cause.
Possible Consequences and Penalties
Parents’ financial affidavits are submitted to the court under oath, so providing false information is perjury. This is a criminal offense, but courts are well aware that a parent can’t earn money to pay child support if he’s sitting in jail. If the judge finds that your allegations are indeed on target, and your ex has fraudulently reported his income, what the judge does about it will most likely depend on the severity of your situation.
The child support amount will almost certainly be adjusted to take into consideration the hidden income. Many states provide for retroactive adjustments, so the increase can date back to whenever you filed the original support motion in court. But some states, such as Pennsylvania, will go back even further, perhaps to the time when your ex first misrepresented his income. This means he’ll be charged with arrears – a past due balance – so even if you didn’t get the money then, you have a chance to collect it now through your state’s enforcement measures. These can include wage garnishment and seizure of a tax refund and personal property.