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My Child Support Experience



Nothing on this page is legal advice. This is only a recount of my experience with regard to child support in the state of North Carolina from April 2022 through April 2023.


You should always consult a personal attorney when you can. If you cannot afford one, try:

  • Legal Aid in your state (many larger towns and cities will have a local office)

  • Public assistance offices for any possible referrals

  • Trusted friends and family

Keep your lawyer talking, and keep your pencil moving. Ask questions like:

  • What is my to-do list between now and my court date?

  • What are the most likely outcomes of upcoming court hearings?

  • Do I need personal references?

  • Considering you're completely candid with your attorney, ask him/her what you should be prepared to answer for. For example, if your bank statements suggest a frivolous use of your income, were these expenses for you alone or for you and your children?

I retained an attorney for my divorce, but I leaned on the Child Support Services legal team to help me obtain child support from my ex-spouse. Here is the timeline as of 5/5/2023. This case takes place in North Carolina, but if you take a minute, you can do a search for your state's CSS offices and other services. Good luck.


Timeline

2021

AUGUST: The ex and I discussed child support via text. I decided to delay requesting it so she could finish graduate school. She had a year left in school and was working a new teaching job full-time. The agreement granted me primary custody.


NOVEMBER: We signed the final draft of our separation agreement and filed for our divorce. The agreement did not address our verbal (text) agreement that I would request child support upon her completion of graduate school (a clear error on my part).


2022

APRIL: I applied for Child Support through the North Carolina Child Support Services website because my ex was graduating and that was what we had agreed to do (through text). Also, a significant change in circumstance occurred because the impact on my schedule demands on my new schedule with the kids - an effect that was unexpected: I was unable to go back to school to maintain my eligibility to teach under our district's "lateral entry program," so my offer from my school to teach the following year would not be honored by the district. I did accept an offer to work as a Teacher's Assistant, however. But I took a big hit on my pay.


MAY-JUNE: CSS contacted my ex-wife to notify her. I feel I made the mistake of not giving her a notice ahead of time. I was busy all the time and emotionally engaging in that debate with her would've been detrimental to my ability to focus on my work as a beginning elementary school teacher (a career I started in August 2020).


JULY: I notified CSS that my ex had relocated to a new house. I provided the address in an email to the agent assigned to my case.


AUGUST: It's getting close to school starting up again and every month, I've called or emailed for an update and to offer assistance. I'd get a response that they were still investigating.


SEPTEMBER: I was notified that CSS was going to serve my ex with a court summons. I believe the original date was November 10th.


OCTOBER: CSS notified me that she no longer lived at the address I gave them. Come to find out, nobody updated her address in the system back in JULY when I sent it to them and they were trying to serve her at her old place.


NOVEMBER: November 2nd came and CSS notified me that we'd need to move the court date because it was too close to November 10th. CSS rescheduled the court date to December 1st.


DECEMBER: On December 1st, I spoke with CSS during registration (check-in) at the courthouse. They told me my ex and her attorney filed a "Motion to dismiss my motion to modify child support." The motion read that I did not demonstrate a "significant change in circumstances," which is required for my motion to be considered prior to the three-year anniversary of our divorce. They're also requesting that I cover her legal fees for this case. I was the last one to be called up because I was removed from the docket as a result of their motion to dismiss and the judge didn't even know I was there. My ex nor her attorney were present. The judge wouldn't hear me. The new court date was moved to January 12th.

Within the next few days, I met up with my CSS agent and their attorney. He made it clear that he did not represent me or my children: he represents the state of North Carolina. The attorney asked questions to try and determine an argument that would get the court to even consider modifying our child support agreement, because the text messages we exchanged regarding child support weren't enough: the terms we discussed should have been put into the separation agreement. We settled on the situation with my contract because it was an unexpected consequence of the circumstances of that school year.


2023

JANUARY: I showed up at court on January 12th. After checking in, I sat in the courtroom. Right before the judge entered, the CSS attorney passed by me and gave me a heads-up that the other party's attorney was sick and that there will be a continuance. The non-custodial parent was also in the courtroom before the judge's entrance but left after speaking with her attorney's representative. This would be her 2nd time being on the property and leaving before seeing the judge. The judge gave me the opportunity to object to the continuance. I looked at the CSS attorney - nothing. Respectfully I said, "The need is urgent, but I'll respect whatever the court decides." Right now, I'm wondering what the next delay tactic will be, OR if the non-custodial will move to delay in order to force a change in the child custody terms.


FEBRUARY: I sent an offer to the non-custodial through the CSS agent and the attorney offering to accept the base child support amount without an obligation to pay for arrears. Ben Roberts (the attorney representing NC CSS) refused to confirm or deny that he had forwarded my offer.


APRIL: Our final court hearing occurred early in April. I entered the date wrong on my calendar and had to leave work in a hurry to catch the last part of my assigned docket. When our case was up, the CSS attorney had done some homework and cited a 1950s supreme court case involving a teacher that was seeking temporary child support due to her experiencing changes in her circumstances that either affected her teaching contract or were affected by her teaching contract status.

The non-custodial's lawyer, attorney Hatley, had no other words about me than, "He couldn't hack it," falsely claiming that I had changed my mind about child support. The circumstances had indeed changed in ways that I had not anticipated because I never had to parent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Additionally, it was obvious that the non-custodial had not disclosed the texts between the two of us. So the lawyer's lame argument worked finally when CSS stumbled on their own clerical error.

After a year of asking how I could prepare or help them in their case and getting no feedback or suggestions, I was asked two questions by the judge and by the CSS attorney. One question was regarding the timeline for the last four years. The other question was about the amount by which my salary changed (about 33%).

The judge later asked the attorney what my current income was: the attorney cited my income from a year earlier when I was teaching full-time and earning a normal salary. They had not updated my income since April 2022 when I submitted my paystubs from the previous months: the last paystub they recorded was the one from January 2022!

Immediately the judge dismissed the case, rejecting my request to modify because he had not found a sufficient change in circumstance to justify it.

In the two weeks that followed, I reached out to CSS to ask what the next step was, citing the clerical error that lead their attorney to provide the false and outdated income information. Their response seemed carefully formulated after I mentioned the possibility of legal action against their agency. They explicitly blamed my testimony for the court loss and told me they would not be filing an appeal.


Things I've Learned:

  • Child Support Services is very busy, and evidentally they have a hard time keeping up with clerical responsibilities. Call and message them at least monthly to make sure they are updating information and taking steps forward in your case.

  • Find out the name of the attorney assigned to your case at CSS. If their contact information isn't provided to you, you can look them up on your state's Bar Association website.

  • Arrears accumlate starting on the date a person files for child support.

  • My separation agreement did not explicitly state conditions for implementing an order to pay child support. As I understand it, that places my motion at the mercy of the three-year rule I mentioned above in our state (North Carolina). Make sure everything is in the contract.

  • Continuances: "... no criminal case shall be continued beyond 90 days from the first court date without court approval." Non-custodial lawyers will use any excuse to max out the amount of time it takes to force the custodial parent into a financial position that will force them to accept any amount their client is willing to offer. (NC Courts Website and "Why do lawyers drag out cases?")

  • Applying for Child Support: You should register on the site and do the application online. You will need a ton of documents so make sure you have digital copies of paystubs, IDs, separation agreements, custody orders, and other documents. Within a week or two (if I recall), someone contacted me to confirm receipt of my application. It turns out that nothing will speed up the process, so don't get your hopes up.

  • Grievances against attorneys can be filed through the state Bar Association.

  • Grievances against CSS employees can be filed through their central offices. In North Carolina, it seems you have to get a representative on the line and ask to be put through to the right department.

  • If you feel there is criminal intent in how they handled your case, you should go to your state's Department of Justice website.


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