Most attorneys charge for their services, whether those services deal with child support issues or anything else; someone must pay the attorney’s fees when a parent has to hire an attorney to collect child support costs. However, some attorneys, particularly those who take a case pro bono or work for a state agency or legal aid society, don’t charge clients for the work they do.
Typically, if the parent who receives child support signs up for her state’s child support enforcement services -- either at the time of the divorce or after -- the child support enforcement agency won’t charge for its services. Often, this agency is operated by a state’s department of family services or by the state attorney general. The agency usually directs its own enforcement measures, and there are no attorney fees involved.
In some states, courts order the delinquent noncustodial parent to pay the custodial parent's attorney’s fees when she must file enforcement actions with the court to collect child support. This usually occurs when the noncustodial parent willfully refuses to pay child support. Courts tend to award payment of fees in these cases because the recipient parent would have to pay out-of-pocket to hire an attorney because the noncustodial parent is violating the court order.
Reasons for Default
If a paying parent falls behind on child support payments for legitimate reasons, such as a job loss or illness that makes him unable to pay support, the court is less likely to order him to pay the custodial parent's attorney fees. Courts generally understand that some events are beyond a parent’s control, but a paying parent also has the option to ask the court for a reduction in child support when he becomes unable to pay.
A court’s decision to order payment of attorney’s fees or other costs is usually within the judge’s discretion, but some states have laws that make attorney’s fees mandatory under certain circumstances, such as when a noncustodial parent owes more than a certain dollar amount of arrears. For example, Texas law allows the court to award attorney’s fees and court costs to be paid by the noncustodial parent when he fails to pay support as ordered, and Texas does not allow the court to waive these fees if the noncustodial parent owes $20,000 or more in child support, unless he is involuntarily unemployed or disabled and is financially unable to pay the fees.
References & Resources
- State of Vermont Supreme Court: Enforcement of the Child Support Order
- Department of Children & Family Services: Child Support Enforcement Services Provided
- Oklahoma District Attorneys Council: Oklahoma Child Support Enforcement
- Texas Constitution and Statutes: Family Code: Title 5: Subtitle B: Chapter 157: Subchapter A