Supreme Court hears Virginia child support case

On behalf of Jarrell, Hicks & Waldman, PC posted in Child Support on Friday, March 1, 2013.

Oral arguments are scheduled before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that will affect Virginia parents as well as parents throughout America. On its face, McBurney v. Young may not jump out as a decisive child support dispute. However, the open records case will have significant impacts on whether parents, who were once Virginia residents, can access and enforce their child support orders.

McBurney is a case about a Virginia father to whom a Virginia court awarded child support from his ex-wife in a divorce decree. Even though the court entered this child support order in his favor, the father never received payments from his wife. The failure to pay is not solely his ex-wife's fault, however. Part of the problem relates to Virginia's open records law. After the father moved to Australia, he was no longer able to request the Virginia court documents because he is an out-of-state resident. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case and determine whether Virginia's denial of access to the records to the out-of-state father violates constitutional rights.

McBurney is clearly an extreme example of the difficulty that a parent may encounter when attempting to enforce a child support order. Nevertheless, it has important lessons for Virginia parents. Although many parents may not move out state and face the hurdle of the open records law, there are other difficulties that can arise. For example, the parent who is ordered to pay may fail to pay or have delinquent payments. The parent may also try to totally avoid payments if he or she faces unemployment.

In such situations, the parent seeking to enforce the child support order has a host of remedies. The parent can get an order garnishing the other parent's wages or seizing the other parent's property. The parent may also get a court order, holding the other parent in contempt that can result in jail time.

Obtaining a child support decree is only the first step in collecting child support. Enforcement and collection is the next step, and this step can often prove challenging.

Source: The Atlantic, "Is Open Government a States' Rights Issue, Too?," Garrett Epps, Feb. 19, 2013

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