How to Enforce Child Support in Illinois

Your divorce, legal separation, or annulment may end your marriage, but it doesn’t sever your financial responsibility to provide for your children in Illinois. At the end of your case, a judge orders one parent to pay a reasonable amount to support shared children younger than 18 or 19 who are still in high school. 

What happens when the responsible party won’t pay? You’ll need to take additional steps to force those payments in this case.

Enforcing child support in Illinois can mean working with agencies like the Division of Child Support Enforcement or the Attorney General’s office. It can also mean going to court, filing paperwork, and asking a judge to step in. 

How does child support work in Illinois?

At the end of your marriage, you’re given court orders with child support information. Typically, the spouse responsible for paying the fees does so by automatic withdrawal. That person’s employer takes out the required funds before cutting a paycheck. It’s harder to skip payments with this method. 

All child support payments are tracked. When one is missed, the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) can notify the paying party and demand that they catch up. If the problem is easy to solve (such as an incorrect address), the agency typically handles this by working directly with the employer. 

How is child support enforced in Illinois?

Some people work hard to avoid their child support obligations. They quit their jobs, accept under-the-table payment arrangements, and otherwise make it hard to collect funds via direct deposit. When this happens, the parent owed money can trigger a case and ask for stronger enforcement options. 

In 92 Illinois counties, the Attorney General’s Office handles child support enforcement. In 10 Illinois counties, the State’s Attorney’s Office completes this task. If the case goes all the way to a criminal trial, these entities represent the prosecution. 

Some child support enforcement issues don’t require criminal prosecution. Parents owed money can file documents with the court and get funds via a judge’s order. Or, they can alert DCSS that funds are missing and ask that agency to collect the debt. 

How do you calculate child support amounts?

Child support payments are arranged as part of your divorce, separation, or annulment. The orders a judge delivers at the end of your case are final and fully enforceable. 

Per Illinois law, judges consider the following factors when determining appropriate child support amounts:

  • Parent’s monthly income 
  • Amount of time the child spends with each parent 
  • The standard of living the child enjoyed before the divorce 
  • The physical and emotional condition of the child
  • The educational needs of the child 

Judges can also consider extraordinary circumstances that might require higher payments. If the child is disabled, needs care, or participates in expensive extracurricular activities, for example, the standard fee could get bigger. 

Steps to enforce a child support order

If your spouse isn’t making the payments as directed in your court orders, you have several options to get the funds you’re owed. 

You could go through DCSS and ask that agency to collect the debt. Typically, you’ll need to provide your child support order, divorce decree, records of past child support, income/asset information, child’s birth certificate, and contact data for your ex. Bring your documents to DCSS, and ask what should happen next. 

You can also go to court and ask a judge to intervene. Take these steps:

  1.  Fill out and sign a Petition for Rule to Show Cause and a Notice of Motion.
  2.  Electronically file your forms with the court that handled your case. You’ll get official copies back, including one with your hearing date filled in. 
  3.  Send your partner copies of these documents. 
  4.  Go to court on the day listed in your notice.

What happens if child support isn’t paid in Illinois? 

Parents are legally obligated to support their children in Illinois. A parent can’t simply choose not to pay, even if they feel they have legitimate reasons for doing so. A child support court order isn’t negotiable, and parents can face significant penalties if they don’t pay. 

Illinois laws say parents who don’t pay can face penalties like these:

  • Suspended driving rights 
  • Community service orders 
  • Interest fees on missed payments 
  • An order to find a new job if the parent is self-employed 
  • Imprisonment for six months 

The court works with parents to help them get back on track. It’s rare for one missed payment to spark something significant (like a jail sentence). But if the court discovers that parents are lying or hiding income to avoid their obligations, punishment can be swift and severe. 

If you are the payor, put your child support payments at the top of your budget every month. Remember that your children depend on your support, and skipping payments could be costly for you. 

Frequently asked questions about enforcing child support in Illinois

How long does it take to get child support? 

Illinois laws don’t specify how long it takes to request or get child support payments. The timeline may be affected by the payor’s willingness to comply and cooperate with the process. 

What is child support supposed to cover? 

Child support payments cover costs associated with the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the child, per Illinois law. Funds can be used to pay for a child’s food, clothing, books, doctor’s appointments, and educational opportunities. 

For some paying parents, it’s easy to think of child support payments as a penalty. The actual intent is, among other things, to prevent children from sinking into poverty or neglect because their parents split up.

How can I check the status of a child support payment?

You can use the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services website to check on the status of payments. If you’re responsible for paying child support, you can also use the Illinois State Disbursement Unit website for more information.

How much back child support is a felony in Illinois?

It depends. Missed payments totaling as little as $5,000 could trigger felony charges, but only if parents hit this limit more than once. In general, if you miss payments totaling between $5,000 and $20,000 and the court determines that you did so purposefully, a felony case could follow.


750 ILCS 5/505: Child Support, Contempt, Penalties. Illinois General Assembly. 
Child Support in Illinois. (August 2019). Illinois Attorney General. 
Enforcing a Child Support Order. (July 2021). Illinois Legal Aid Online. 
Services. Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. 
Welcome. Illinois State Disbursement Unit. 
750 ILCS 16: Nonsupport Punishment Act. Illinois General Assembly.
Frequently Asked Questions: Alimony, Child Support, Court Awards, Damages. (October 2023). IRS. 

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