Some years ago, the Enforcement Division of the Department of Revenue moaned that the efforts of some attorneys to set guidelines for resolving disputes with that division raised ethical questions.
The attorneys asked, in essence, How can assets be minimized in order to avoid enforcement of the child-support debt? Should any income tax withholding be reduced to assure no refund? Should cash be moved from bank accounts to brokerage accounts? Should a tax refund be minimized so that when the Revenuers reached for the refund to offset child-support arrearages, there would be less to grab? Were the attorneys suggesting tax evasion or legitimate tax loopholes?
When attorneys raised these questions, the department suggested that the attorneys were counseling clients on how to evade paying their child-support obligations.
If the suggestions were made by (a)
probate estate attorneys to avoid large estate taxes or (b)
tax attorneys to avoid large taxes rather than (c)
divorce attorneys to avoid child-support
would the suggestions be considered as unethical?
The DOR will allegedly help you by
1. reviewing the court docket to determine whether any action is pending and whether either party is represented by an attorney,
2. notifying the obligor, the person who owes child support, and providing an opportunity to contest the arrearage through an administrative review of the debt,
3. notifying the attorneys of record of any court action initiated by the DOR,
4. providing services to you, supposedly whether you are a custodial or a noncustodial parent, (a) help you establish a support order for children under the age of 18, (b) help you collect an existing obligation, or (c) help you enforce collection of arrearages, regardless of the age or emancipation status of the child, which accrued pursuant to a court order.
In Massachusetts, according to the enforcement division spokesperson, DOR prosecutes more than one-third of the cases in probate courts . . . and funds clerical and family service officer positions in the courts to help process DOR cases. Also an ethical question?
Like the attorneys giving suggestions, the DOR also has an
the ready: the arrangement eases the courts' burden and frees
court staff to work on non-DOR cases. That cost, one assumes, is
by the surcharge applied by the DOR for administrative costs to the
If you dispute the amount of child support allegedly owed, you are entitled to an administrative review process. If you are aggrieved by the DOR's final determination, you may seek that a court review the administrative process used by DOR.
If you are the person who is supposed to pay the order, you will be asked to provide proof of payment or provide other materials in support of the claim. Do not expect a personal interview for the review. In most instances, the review is conducted without a face-to-face interview. The DOR issues a written Final Determination which will instruct you to seek further review in the court that entered the child support order, if necessary.
The DOR's authority to enforce the collection of child support arrearages through an administrative lien, levy and seizure of assets was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1996.