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Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement

Child Support Obligations

Once a family law judge makes a child support order, it becomes a legal obligation. However, there are times a parent might not be able to pay or simply refuses to pay. Bad idea. If a parent doesn't pay, he or she can be held in contempt and fined or sent to jail. Also, his or her driver's license (and any professional license) may be suspended. A parent can also face criminal charges if nonpayment continues for an extended period of time.

Contact BCSE

In Pennsylvania, child support enforcement services are provided by your local Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) office. Most child support is paid by income withholding as ordered by the court and maintained in the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System. If you don't have an income withholding order, you can also pay by personal check, cashier’s check, or money order.

What Can BCSE Do to Help Enforce a Support Order?

The BCSE can petition the court to get a parent to pay their child support including:

  • Civil Contempt
    Jail for up to six months, a fine up to $500, or probation for up to six months
  • Seizure of your bank accounts
  • Seizure of any personal injury or workers compensation awards
  • Seizure of your federal and state tax refunds
  • Suspension of your driver’s, professional, occupational, and/or recreational (hunting & fishing) licenses
  • Passport denial
  • Liens against any real property that you own
  • Interception of lottery winnings
  • Credit bureau reporting
  • Publication of your name in the newspaper as a delinquent parent

Criminal Prosecution

If the court decides the non-custodial parent could pay some or all of the amount owed, the payer can be held in contempt. Penalties for contempt may include any of the enforcement methods listed here (like suspending a driver’s license), plus fines, jail time, and other penalties. Additionally, the non-paying can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony and face jail or prison time.

Modifying an Order

If a parent is having problems making payments, he or she should contact the court immediately. The parent can always seek to modify their existing support order. This will require going back to court and explaining to the judge why you can’t make your payments. Only a judge can change the amount you owe under a support order.

The following table highlights the main provisions of Pennsylvania's child support enforcement laws.

See also Child Support Enforcement FAQs, How Do I Locate a Parent for Child Support, Enforcement and Collection of Back Child Support.

Code Section Title 23 Pa.C.S.A. Domestic Relations et. seq.
Who is Responsible? Both parents
Agencies Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE)
Remedies Available
  • Withholding income from a parent's wages;
  • Placing liens on a parent's real or personal property;
  • Garnishing state and federal tax refunds (must be at least $500 in back support);
  • Withhold child support from a paycheck or from unemployment benefits;
  • Garnish worker's compensation benefits;
  • Suspending driving, occupational, sporting and/or recreational licenses;
  • Credit bureau reports (must be at least 60 days in arrears);
  • Bench warrants for arrest;
  • Passport denial or revocation;
  • File civil contempt of court actions, which could result in a jail sentence.

Federal Enforcement

If the non-custodial parent moves out of Pennsylvania, the support order can still be enforced in any other U.S. state under the Uniform Federal Family Support Act. If you need help locating the other parent, the federal government has a Federal Parent Locator Service.

Learn More About Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Laws from a Lawyer

As you can see from the information above, it's important to comply with child support orders. If you're having problems complying with a child support order, or you having problems enforcing a child support order, it's a good idea to contact a skilled child support attorney in Pennsylvania for help.

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