As a former Child Support Enforcement Attorney for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, I am all too familiar with the short-comings of an Agency empowered to insure that all the children of the Commonwealth are supported – to the largest extent possible – by their parents. Indeed, custodial and non-custodial parents, on a daily basis, complain of the inefficiency and red-tape that seems to hamper the DOR in establishing, modifying, and enforcing child support orders in the Commonwealth. However, with all of their short-comings, the DOR has an exceedingly undeserved poor reputation. In this piece, we look to provide answers to the simplest of questions: What can the DOR do, and what is the best way to stop it!
The DOR has been given vast powers under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119A. The DOR can suspend an individuals driver’s license, levy their bank accounts, intercept tax refunds, garnish wages, suspend an individual’s passport, and put liens on a person’s real property. I have been a personal witness to all such actions. However, with each of these powers, comes internal regulations and policies. Most attorneys and lay-persons do not understand how these enforcement powers work, and most importantly, how they can be stopped. As a former DOR attorney, I know that each of these actions can be delayed, and in most instances, completely side-stepped by one simple method: being proactive!
To know the DOR is to love it! Well, maybe not. But one must not be intimidated by the agency, or its vast powers. When an individual, who has a child support order, is having difficulty in not paying their child support obligation – even for one week – that individual should immediately contact the DOR. Most people will contact the 1-800 number that is provided by the DOR on its website. This, however, is a horrible decision, that will most certainly cause more delay, more stress, and be almost completely unproductive. So who should a person contact when they are facing the possibility of the falling behind on their child support, or even worse, losing their driver’s license? The answer is short and sweet – your DOR case worker.
Every custodial and non-custodial parent has an assigned case worker at the DOR. This case worker is assigned by the last the name of the non-custodial parent. The case worker is the “manager” and direct-contact for your case. They are in charge of all of the enforcement powers used on your case. The DOR case worker has almost complete authority in determining whether or not your license will be suspended, if you may have your license reinstated, and their willingness to work with you is a critical part in solving the DOR puzzle. How do I contact my DOR case worker?
The DOR case worker is located in a DOR Regional Office. For example, if you have a child support order out of Essex County, your case worker would be located in the Northern Regional Office. This office has a direct number. Call the direct number and ask to speak to your case worker. The case worker will ALWAYS work with you – not against you. They are not in the business of making money; they do not work on commissions; they do not get bonus points for taking away your license. They are their to help, and they are their to assist in collecting child support on behalf of your child. They do not find joy in ruining someone’s life, although you may certainly feel like they do. Indeed, the vast majority of DOR workers and staff are reasonable individuals that are simply using their best efforts to make certain the children of the Commonwealth are supported by their parents. They are not a debt collection agency – they are not nasty and mean. Reach out to your case worker – and explain your situation – they will listen and do their best to help you – most of the time.
Retaining the services of an attorney with first-hand knowledge of the DOR – and an attorney who is advocating on your behalf – is very useful. For example, if you do manage to contact your case worker at the DOR, the DOR case worker will record – from their own memory – notes from your conversation. All of these notes are printed and placed into your file. Subsequently, when your case is brought before the court for a contempt action (for failure to pay support, where you may face the possibility of jail time up to 179 days) the DOR attorney may very will use these notes to indicate to the judge what you have previously asserted to the DOR. This is why having an attorney who understands the child support laws of Massachusetts, and what should and should not be admitted to the DOR, is crucial in achieving a great outcome for all parties involved – including your children!
Finally, I have seen so many cases where the non-custodial parent did not have the financial means to pay a high child support order, and that individual simply ignored the order entirely. And when I say ignore, I mean did not make any payments. This, by far, is the worst thing to do, and will almost guarantee a jail sentence! If you cannot afford your Massachusetts Child Support Order, retain an experienced Child Support Attorney to file for a modification to have your child support order lowered. But even more importantly, pay something every week — even if it’s $20.00. This will not only show your good faith effort to your DOR case worker, but will also be evidence in a future contempt case that you are making some sort of effort. An individual who has paid something every week will certainly appear to be more credible and honorable than a person who has done nothing. So do something!
I am here to help you navigate this maze, and to make certain your rights and your children’s rights are protected!