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Child support obligations and Virginia district courts

The government generally does not interfere with the rights of Newport News City, Virginia, parents to raise children as they see fit. However, the government will step in when parents do not fulfill duties toward children, like protecting them from harm. Child support is a parental responsibility.

Virginia Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts handle cases of individuals seeking child support, as well as claims of non-support. Efforts to establish child support are civil actions, while non-support cases are filed as criminal cases.

Parents may approach the court in one of two ways to open a civil support case. You may file a petition independently with an intake officer in the court service unit or, as many Virginia parents choose, work with the Division of Child Support Enforcement. DCSE petitions the court for parents, on the behalf of children, to obtain a court order for support.

The same court addresses support non-payment issues, with the power to impose penalties upon non-custodial parents, who do not provide the financial backing a child requires. Child support non-payment is a misdemeanor. Commonly, the court orders a payment plan to bring child support up to date.

A judge has other options. Fines as high as $500 and jail terms of up to one year can be ordered, along with the suspension of licenses to drive or practice a profession. Parents who fail to appear in court may be charged with contempt. The harshest punishments are often reserved for repeat offenders, since penalties like these can diminish a parent's effort to make support payments.

Wage garnishment orders frequently reduce or eliminate the need for a non-custodial parent to face these consequences. Employers deduct support payments directly from a negligent parent's pay.

Family law attorneys assist custodial parents with establishing child support. Lawyers also can represent non-custodial parents, who have difficulties staying current with financial obligations, in support modification cases.

Source: Virginia's Judicial System, "The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court" Nov. 17, 2014

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