Divorce agreements between separating spouses are generally final once entered by a judge. However, some areas of divorce agreements, such as child support, can be modified over time as circumstances and needs change. Courts alone make and modify child support orders; in Illinois, those orders last forever.
Parenthood brings with it the responsibility to provide financially for the children. When parents do not live together, child support seeks to balance the financial responsibility by legally requiring regular contributions from the non-custodial parent. According to Illinois child support guidelines, the non-custodial parent usually pays 20 percent of his or her net income for one child and 28 percent for two. The percentage of net income to be paid for child support increases for each child.
However, courts look at several factors when determining specific amounts of child support, including:
- The number of children that need to be supported
- The non-custodial parent's income
- The amount of child support the non-custodial parent pays for other children
- The amount of alimony the non-custodial parent pays to a former spouse(s)
Child support payments typically continue until the child turns 18 or is emancipated (emancipation normally occurs at graduation from high school or age 19, whichever is last to occur). A non-custodial parent who fails to pay court-ordered child support in Illinois faces significant financial implications that can last beyond the child's 18th birthday and can last a lifetime.
Illinois' Old Statute of Limitations
Prior to 1997, Illinois law prevented custodial parents from enforcing unpaid child support orders if 20 or more years had passed since the missed payment. Although the unpaid amount earned interest during that period, the 20 year statute of limitations wiped the slate clean if no one sought to enforce the missed payment(s).
The reasoning was that, if the custodial parent did not seek to enforce the payment while the child was still a child, the custodial parent must not have needed the money. Unfortunately, the earlier law protected non-paying parents if they could keep a low profile for long enough.
The 1997 Change
In 1997, the Illinois Legislature changed the child support law, abolishing the previous statute of limitations on missed payments. This change allows custodial parents to request reimbursements, even 50 years down the road, for the expenses he or she shouldered in rearing the child. It also sends a message that Illinois takes child support seriously and, like parenthood itself, child support is a lifelong obligation.
Not only do missed child support payments never go away, but unpaid amounts are considered individual judgments and continue to accrue interest at an annual rate of nine percent. Therefore, after 10 years the original amount due will have almost doubled simply for failure to pay. While the award of accrued interest from missed payments after January 1, 2000 is mandatory, awarding interest on payments missed before that date is left to a court's discretion.
Implications of the Change
Death is now the only escape from a child support order in Illinois. No longer can a non-paying parent simply wait for statute of limitations to run out. Moreover, the accrued interest can end up being as much as the originally ordered child support amount after a very short period of time. Because sole custody arrangements place a child with the mother more often than not, this change affects more men than women.
Ironically, there now may be instances of grandparents battling over child support from decades prior. From a financial investment standpoint, the lack of a statute of limitations allows custodial spouses to wait to seek enforcement of unpaid orders after a significant amount of interest has accrued. Nine percent is at least three times better than current CD interest rates. This creates a nice nest egg for the custodial parent to sit on until the amount has ripened into a significant sum.
However, this is based on the assumption that the non-custodial parent who failed to pay throughout the years will have the money to pay the enforced judgment later down the road.
Seek Professional Help
If your child's other parent is not making court-ordered child support payments, contact an experienced attorney to help you enforce the order and get the money you and your child deserve. Illinois takes unpaid child support seriously and so should you.