Unmarried Parents: What you should know and do when served with an administrative order for child support (from the Family Support Division)

In Missouri, there are two primary ways that a non-married parent can seek to establish child support, judicial and administrative. A judicial action is through the circuit court, and an administrative action is through the Family Support Division. The Division is an administrative agency which has the power to issue binding orders for child support, which may or may not later be filed as a judicial action in the appropriate circuit court. The agency has their own administrative process, where a case worker calculates child support on information provided by the custodial parent, and the non-custodial parent is then served, usually by mail, with the notice of an order. The non-custodial parent is given the opportunity to dispute the amount calculated by the case worker, and request a hearing within a certain number of days. If the non-custodial parent does not act, then the order becomes final, and the non-custodial parent is bound without further legal process. However, if a hearing is requested, then a telephone “trial” before a hearing officer is conducted, and the child support is determined based on the evidence presented. Also, a parent can petition the circuit court for judicial review of the administrative order within 30 days of the entry of an administrative order, even after an administrative hearing.

However, the non-custodial parent must know that the hearing docket is backlogged for many months, sometimes even a year, and even after the hearing is conducted it may be many more months before the order is issued. Once the order finally is issued, it is set to take effect all the way back to the date that the case was started, so the non-custodial parent may have a year or more of back child support simply because of the slow administrative process, even though there was no order in effect for those months. This can negatively affect the obligor's credit, and the arrearage is usually assessed at an additional amount per month, basically raising the child support by as much as a few hundred dollars. Also, once all of this is over, there is an order for child support, but the agency does not have the power to issue orders for custody or visitation, and if the non-custodial parent is the father, essentially there are no legal rights established, other than the “right” to pay child support

The best course of action to take when served with an administrative action for child support is to immediately consult with an attorney. At a minimum, the attorney can represent the non-custodial parent at the administrative hearing to ensure the proper evidence is before the agency and that the support amount is calculated properly. But more importantly a good child support attorney may be able to, in effect, “move” the case to a circuit court before a judge through a judicial action, establish legal custody or visitation rights, ensure paternity is determined conclusively, terminate the administrative action, and remove the family support division from the case. In a judicial action, unless state debt or interest is in issue, the Family Support Division or other state agency will not participate in the case. Timing is everything however in dealing with these cases, so consulting with an attorney immediately is critical to avoid a potential financial mess.