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Child Support and License Suspension

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project - CLEAR Intake Line LSC Funded
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The Division of Child Support (DCS) may suspend licenses of parents who are behind in their child support payments. The law allows DCS to suspend any license issued by the State of Washington, including drivers' licenses, hunting licenses, fishing licenses, professional licenses and contractor or occupational licenses. This publication explains your rights and obligations under the law. Publication #3809EN


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Can they suspend my license?

The Division of Child Support (DCS) may suspend your license if you are behind in child support. DCS can suspend any license issued by the State of Washington, including:

  • Drivers' licenses.

  • Hunting licenses.

  • Fishing licenses.

  • Professional licenses.

  • Contractor or occupational licenses.

*If you are worried about getting behind in support, DCS can help. Read more about the Alternative Solutions program or contact them at AlternativeSolutions@dshs.wa.gov.

What is a Notice of Suspension?

DCS sends you this if you are behind in child support. It says:

  • You are behind in support.

  • DCS plans to suspend your license(s).

You can get this notice when

  • You have not paid child support in the last six months or more.

  • You owe an amount of at least six months' worth of payments.

  • Effective July 23, 2017, you get behind in support and there is a court order saying you will lose your license or not get it renewed if this happens.

DCS cannot suspend your license if you:

  • Are in jail/prison and have no financial resources available.

  • Are getting TANF, SSI, or other public assistance income.

  • Are in WorkFirst and do not get a cash grant.

I got a Notice of Suspension. What should I do?

You must respond within twenty days of getting the Notice to avoid suspension of your license.

You can:

  1. Pay what you owe.

  2. Ask for an administrative hearing (a "fair hearing").

  3. Contact DCS in writing or in person about a payment schedule.

  4. File a Modification Petition with the Court/administrative agency that entered the child support order and tell DCS you have done so. (If a Petition for Modification is pending when you receive the Notice of Suspension, you should tell DCS this and give them a copy of the Petition.)

  5. Ask for a DCS Conference Board review.

We have more info on these below.

*If you do not respond within twenty days of receiving the Notice of Suspension, they will suspend your license!  Try to talk to a lawyer.

How do I ask for an administrative hearing?

Send a letter to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) at P.O. Box 42488, Olympia, WA 98504.

How does an administrative hearing go?

An "administrative law judge" (or "ALJ") runs the hearing. Someone from DCS will be there. You may present evidence and question the DCS representative.

Here are the only defenses you can use to ask the Law Judge (ALJ) to stop the license suspension:

  • You are not the parent who owes child support.

  • There is no valid child support order.

  • You have paid the support as ordered.

  • You are not six months behind.

  • You have made a "good faith effort" to follow the support order.

The ALJ can decide if you have made a "good faith effort" to follow the order based on your payment history, ability to pay, and efforts to find/keep a job.

How does the ALJ reach a decision?

After the hearing, the ALJ makes a written decision. The ALJ will order your license suspended if s/he decides both these are true:

  • You are not in compliance.

  • You have not made a good faith effort to comply.

An ALJ who decides you are not in compliance but made a good faith effort can set up a payment plan. The ALJ must think about:

  • How much you owe.

  • The current support order amount.

  • How much you make.

  • The needs of all the children who rely on you financially.

If you plan to ask the ALJ at your hearing to make a payment plan, you must bring info about these things to the hearing.

How do I contact DCS to make payment arrangements?

Do it in writing within twenty days of the day you get the notice. They will delay your license suspension for up to thirty days. This gives you a chance to make an agreement with DCS on a payment schedule.

The agreement must include timely payments of current support plus a reasonable payment schedule for paying off back support. DCS must consider

  • Your financial situation.

  • The needs of all the children you support.

If you believe the DCS representative is being unreasonable, ask to speak with a supervisor. If this does not work, you can ask for a Conference Board review. (See below.)

If you sign an agreement with DCS, they will not suspend your license. If you do not reach an agreement, they will.

How do I modify the support order?

The court or an ALJ may lower child support if things have changed for you since they entered the child support order. Examples:  

  • You are now disabled.

  • You had an involuntary decrease in income.

You can also get the support lowered if the court entered the last order by default. This means you did not make an appearance (file any written response or appear in court to present your position) when the court set child support. Generally, you may only get future child support changed. You may only get back child support changed in a very few cases. You may need a lawyer for that.

What if a court set the support?

You must ask that same court to change it. You file a "petition for modification of child support."  DCS's do-it-yourself packet with the court forms you need is at http://www.dshs.wa.gov/dcs/. You can also get this packet by calling legal services. You may also be able to get a lawyer to help you.

What if DCS set the support?

A new ALJ hearing may change it. DCS has forms for requesting a modification hearing with an ALJ. If you do not know if a court or DCS set your support order, ask DCS to send you a copy of the order.

DCS should help you change your child support if your situation means you need a change. Contact the DCS support enforcement officer handling your case.

What is a Conference Board Review?

It is an informal hearing to resolve problems with DCS. A Conference Board can address some matters that you cannot get decisions about anywhere else, such as

  • A complaint about a DCS worker.

  • A request for deferral (delaying payment).

  • A review of payroll deductions that cause you hardship.

  • A request for a charge-off or waiver (a decision not to collect).  

Conference Board decisions are in writing. You cannot appeal them to a court.

What is a charge-off?

A Conference Board may agree to "charge-off" (not collect) child support you owe DSHS if collection would cause you "substantial hardship."  They may decide to accept a partial lump-sum payment instead of collecting all the unpaid support. They may write off the entire DSHS debt if collection would cause substantial hardship to children living with you.

Here are some possible examples of "substantial hardship":

  • You and the child you owe support for are reunited.

  • You get disability payments.

  • Paying back support would make it hard for you to pay current support.

  • You have limited earning potential.

They suspended my license. How can get it back?

You can sign a repayment agreement with DCS (or pay off the entire debt).  Call DCS to ask about this.

To set a repayment amount, DCS looks at your income and expenses, including expenses of caring for any dependent children. You must give DCS complete info about your financial situation, including any extra expenses you have. Examples:

  • Medical costs.

  • Costs of caring for a child who is disabled.

You may have to make the first payment due under your agreement before DCS will release your license. You must keep making payments when due under the agreement. If you do not, they can re-suspend your license.



This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of July 2017.

© 2017 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)


Last Review and Update: Jul 17, 2017