Paying Child Support Arrears for Adults

Most people know someone with a child support horror story.  The seemingly never-ending payments, license suspensions and jail are but a few headaches parents may face when dealing with child support enforcement.  But there is a silver lining and a glimmer of hope that one day, at least 18 years into the future, child support will end.  The child will have reached adulthood and the headache of child support pressure will be over. Unfortunately that silver lining is never uncovered and the hope quickly fades when parents realize that child support debt does not end when a child reaches adulthood.

In some cases, child support ends when the minor reaches the age-of-majority.  This refers to the legal age established under state law at which an individual is no longer a minor, (National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 2014).  The law is clear, however, there are many parents making payment that are state owned and are not financially beneficial to the child.  The NCSL (2014) explains that by the age of majority, the individual, a young adult, has the right and responsibility to make certain legal choices that adults make.

Based on this law, parents should not be forced to pay support to people of legal age that financially care for themselves.  Nor should they be forced to pay an imaginary debt comprised of fees and interest once the child reaches adulthood.  There are two situations that require payments after adulthood.  In some cases, the child support debt, or arrears, is owed to the custodial parent.

According to Daniel R. Levinson, former Inspector General, (2007), debt owed to custodial parents is settled only at the discretion of the custodial parent.  This debt should be waived when the child reaches adulthood because there is no long a need to provide for a child.  This situation could be more supported if custodial parents were forced to provide receipts of all money spent on the child.  This would be a more solid reason for reimbursement. Unfortunately, the current law does not force parents to prove how child support money is being spent.

The second instance, and most popular, is reserved for the parents who owe money to the state and can only be forgiven by the state that holds the child support note.  Debt compromise is offered by just over half of the states and qualifying mandated criteria make it difficult for low-income parents.  It is complicated to track how many parents have successfully been granted debt forgiveness because there is little or no information provided by the participating states. The reason for this is that The Office of Child Support Enforcement Agency has not issued guidelines regarding the administration of state debt compromise programs and does not track or monitor those states that have implemented such programs, (Levinson, 2007).

Another explanation for the lack of available data could be due to the limited number of parents who have successfully erased their child support debt.  Most of these programs require between 12 and 24 consistent monthly payments before a compromise will be granted.  This can be a difficult accomplishments in populations exceed double unemployment numbers.  Making complete and regular child support payments may be easy for some, but for low-income parents, the choice between eating and paying child support for an adult child is a no brainer.

Parents should not be on the hook for child support debt owed to the state for a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant, interest, and late fees.  The money does not benefit anyone or anything except for the government.   For those arrears cases where money is owed directly to the parent, receipts need to be provided in order to account for every dollar spent on the child.  In its current state, the child support system is similar to an unlimited bank account.  The I.O.U. is one that never expires and the trap is set for citizens (who happen to be parents) to pay child support for an adult children thus transferring the child support into government revenue.


Levinson, D. R. (2007, October). State use of debt compromise to reduce child support arrears. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from

National Conference of State Legislatures (2014, January). Termination of Child Support- Age of Majority. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from