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Help! I'm being charged for child support

Published:Tuesday | February 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington

Dear Mrs Walker-Huntington,

I need your assistance on a very important matter. My ex-husband's parents filed for him and my two children. They migrated to the US in 2009. I currently reside in Jamaica. On February 14, 2012 I received a letter from the court in Pennsylvania, stating that I am to appear before the court to honour a court order for me to pay child support for the two children. The stamp of the envelope from the post office dated February 13, 2012. I am not sure how the system works if they live with their father in the US and I live in Jamaica, and given that their grandparents were the ones who signed an affidavit of support to look after them. Please advise me of the way forward.

Also, I am currently married to a US citizen who has recently started the process to file for me to live in the US. Could this court order prevent me from migrating to be with my husband before the papers are processed, or when the process is completed? Please be guided by the fact that I reside in Jamaica and the court order for child support issued against me is from the US.

Please advise accordingly. Thanks for your assistance.


Dear RNSD,

All non-custodial parents are liable for child support for their children under the age of 18 years. Child support is not for the parents, it is for the benefit of the child and, therefore, the parents cannot legally agree not to pay child support (unless some other consideration is made during a legal agreement). When a couple divorces, child support should be decided and noted in the marital-settlement agreement or the final judgement of divorce. If custody changes post-divorce, arrangements should be made for child support. The same applies to parents who are not married.

In a situation such as yours where, if you had custody of your children, you gave up that custody when you allowed the children to migrate to the US with their father, you are now obligated to pay child support to the custodial parent - the father. It is important that you answer the claim for child support and not allow an order to be entered against you by default. In the US, each state has its own guidelines as to how much child support is needed per child. This amount is determined by the income of both parents. If one parent is unemployed or underemployed, income can be imputed to that parent.

You should also answer the petition for child support because there might be mis-statements in the petition and you do not want any falsehoods to be in the record against you without a defence and, or counterclaim.

Notwithstanding the children's grandmother signing an affidavit of support, it does not absolve your responsibility to pay child support for your children. It is unfortunate that as a family you could not have worked out the issue of support for your children without bringing in the Child Support Enforcement in Pennsylvania.

urgent response

Child support is not deemed a negative if a person is ordered by a court to pay child support. The negative comes in if you are in contempt of court for purposely refusing to pay, or if you are so seriously delinquent that your driver's licence is suspended, you can't obtain a US passport, you are denied your US citizenship and or your income tax refund is intercepted. Since you are planning to migrate to the US in the near future, it is even more urgent that you respond to the Petition for Child Support by retaining a family-law attorney in the county that your case is pending.

Even if a person is domiciled in Jamaica with no intention of migrating to the US, a Child Support court order from the US can be domesticated (registered) in Jamaica, same as a Jamaican court order can be domesticated in the US. Courts will generally give full faith and credit to another court's order for the efficiency of justice and to ensure that persons cannot evade a court order. For a US judgement to be domesticated in Jamaica, a new case has to be filed and Summary Judgement sought.

Having said that, it is highly unusual for someone to pursue child support to the point of domesticating a foreign judgement - unless a large sum of money is involved. However, it would definitely be in your best interest to secure the services of an attorney to deal with this matter.

Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises law in Florida in the areas of Immigration, Family, Corporate & Personal Injury Law. She is a mediator, arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida. info@walkerhuntington.com.