Child Support in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)
Child support has an important financial effect on all parties involved. It is a significant financial obligation for those who must pay it. Because delinquent child support payments bear interest, unpaid child support can balloon to an unmanageable amount quickly if not addressed. Child support plays a critical role in providing for the best interests of children in the CNMI, and ensures that each child has the financial support of two parents, regardless of the relationship between the parents.
Establishing Child Support
To obtain a child support order, the parent-child relationship between the child and the parent must be established. In the CNMI, this is done through an action under the Uniform Parentage Act 8 CMC §§ 1700-1726. Or, if the parents are married but want to get divorced, child support may be ordered during divorce proceedings.1
An action under the Uniform Parentage Act must be brought within three years after the child reaches the age of majority.2 Parents cannot make an agreement not to bring a parentage action.3
Amount of Child Support
The CNMI Superior Court has the authority to set child support guidelines to determine the amount of child support to be paid.4 However, the CNMI Superior Court has not yet adopted child support guidelines. Instead, the court considers the circumstances of each family and weighs many factors including:
- The needs of the child;
- The standard of living and circumstance of the parents;
- The relative financial means of the parents;
- The earning ability of the parents;
- The need and capacity of the child for education, including higher education;
- The age of the child;
- The financial resources and the earning ability of the child;
- The responsibility of the parents for the support of others; and
- The value of services contributed by the custodial parent.5
Once the parent-child relationship is established, the court makes an order establishing the amount of support going forward, and also can include a judgment of past support and the costs of pregnancy and confinement.6 The court will also enter orders concerning custody and visitation and any other matters in the best interest of the child.7
Child Support Payments - Income Withholding Orders
Once child support is established, the court should issue an income withholding order, which requires the paying parent’s employer to automatically withhold the child support from the paying parent’s paycheck.8 However, in practice, the court often does not issue an income withholding order unless the parent receiving child support requests one.
The contents of an income withholding order are described by statute, and the statute also provides directions on how to provide notice to the employer. See 8 CMC § 1577-1579. The CNMI requires that the notice to the employer be on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ standard form.9
Another issue to be aware of in the CNMI is that the law provides for a governmental agency called the CNMI Support Disbursement Unit, but this agency has not been established.10 In practice, employers in the CNMI often make direct deposits to the bank account of the parent receiving child support.
Delinquent Child Support Payments Become Automatic Judgments
Once the court has issued an order requiring a parent to pay child support, child support payments that are delinquent for more than thirty-one days become automatic judgments, and begin earning interest.11 Judgments in the CNMI bear interest at the rate of nine percent a year.12
Enforcing Child Support Orders
If you already have a child support order in place, but the paying parent is not following the order, the order can be enforced either through obtaining an income withholding order, as described above, so the payments become automatic, or through contempt proceedings.13
An income withholding order from another state can be enforced in the CNMI by registering the order with the CNMI Office of the Attorney General.14
Modifying Child Support Orders
The court has continuing jurisdiction to modify child support orders.15 Generally, the party requesting a modification of child support must demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in circumstances warranting the requested change.
Child support is something that many parents dread dealing with, regardless of whether the parent pays or receives child support. Child support can be emotionally charged because it involves money and the other parent. However, when considering your child support issues, keep in mind that delays in addressing child support issues usually benefit no one, and often harm all involved. The parent who should be receiving child support bears an unfair burden in providing all of the financial support for the child; the parent who should be paying child support accrues interest and incurs financial obligations that may follow him or her for years into the future; and the child is left without current support. Often, these negative effects of ignoring child support issues greatly outweigh the short-term discomfort of timely addressing them.
Note: The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands includes the islands of Rota, Tinian and Saipan. The information provided here applies to all three islands.
Note: The CNMI statutes referenced here can be accessed online for free at the website of the CNMI Law Revision Commission.
Note: We hope the information provided on this page helps you understand the basic legal framework for child support in the CNMI. The information provided here, however, is general, and is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice. For a more in depth understanding of the CNMI child support laws, and for advice on how those laws apply to the facts of your specific case, you should contact an attorney.
1 8 CMC § 1311
2 8 CMC § 1707
3 8 CMC § 1706(d)
4 1 CMC § 3206
5 8 CMC § 1715(e)(1)-(9)
6 8 CMC § 1715(c)
7 8 CMC § 1715(c)
8 8 CMC § 1575
9 8 CMC § 1578(a)
10 8 CMC § 1572
11 8 CMC § 1574
12 7 CMC § 4101
13 8 CMC § 1717(c)
14 8 CMC § 1580(c)
15 8 CMC §§ 1311, 1718
This article was written by Claire Kelleher-Smith. Claire is an associate attorney at O’Connor Berman Dotts and Banes practicing family law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. She has represented clients in a variety of family law proceedings. Claire has a client-centered practice, and works with each client to seek an outcome suited to the client’s unique situation. She enjoys practicing family law and believes that although people usually need a family attorney during the most difficult periods of their lives, the legal system can be used to navigate those trying times and to establish the framework for moving towards brighter futures and healthier relationships.