A child support lien gives the payee interest in the payer's property. The lien, filed by the agency collecting the support, is meant to secure payment of past-due support. If the child support office made a mistake and filed an invalid child support lien, the payer must get the lien released.
Once support arrears reach a certain amount or the support payments are a specific number of months behind, as defined by state laws, the support agency may file a lien against the payer's personal property or real estate. The agency might file the lien automatically or at the request of the support receiver. The paperwork, usually prepared by the support agency, is filed with the appropriate government office. For example, a lien against the payer's real estate is filed in the county land records, and a lien against a vehicle is recorded with the department of motor vehicles. In some states, a lien is created by law once the support reaches a certain amount or is so many months past due, but the agency may not file the lien in a government office unless special circumstances apply. For example, child support over two months past due becomes a lien in Michigan by law, but Michigan support offices don't file the lien in a government office.
Once the lien is filed, it's presumed valid even if the child support agency is mistaken. The support payer won't be able to sell the property without taking care of the lien first. A child support payer must contact the office collecting the support immediately if a lien is filed but he doesn't owe arrears. He'll need proof of his child support payments -- such as canceled checks or pay stubs if the support is taken from his pay -- and a copy of the court order showing how much he's supposed to pay.
Once the payer meets with a child support worker and proves the lien is invalid, the agency should remove the lien by filing the proper paperwork with the government office the lien was filed in. If the lien was not filed in a government office, which may occur in states such as Michigan, the agency itself releases the lien. The payer should ask for a copy of the lien release or discharge paper filed or prepared by the agency for his own records. He also needs to check the release or discharge paper to confirm that the lien amounts and other information, such as name and date filed, match the information on the original lien. If the information on the lien removal paperwork is wrong, the payer may have trouble selling the property affected by the lien in the future.
Some states limit what property a child support agency can place a lien against. For example, in Texas, the agency can't place a child support lien against the payer's main home in most cases. If the support agency places a lien against property exempt under state laws, the payer can request a lien release based on that fact.
References & Resources
- Michigan Supreme Court: Using Property Liens to Collect Past-Due Support
- Stillings & Buchinger, LLC: Enforcing a Child Support Order
- Publications USA.gov: Handbook on Child Support Enforcement
- County of San Mateo: What Is a Release of Lien?
- Texas Attorney General: Enforcing Support
- Dallas Relo: The Texas Homestead Exemption