Enforcing Child Support

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When a court issues a child support order, it remains in effect until modified by the judge.  Non-compliance with the order is a serious matter.  Custodial parents have numerous options for enforcement.  One of them involves filing a petition for enforcement with the court that first issued the order.  In cases involving intentional non-payment by the non-custodial parent, the petitioner can request that the court tack on a penalty as high as 10% of the maintenance payments that are late by 30 days or more.  At an enforcement hearing, the judge inquires into the payor's compliance with the order and the amount still due.  Where there is disagreement between the parents, the court will request that they produce some evidence of payment such as canceled checks.  It will then enter a judgment for the child support arrears by ordering either a lump sum payment or a repayment plan.  Any part of the judgment that is not paid accumulates an annual interest rate (i.e. 12% per year).  

At the enforcement hearing, courts can order unemployed non-custodial parents to look for work immediately and report their job search efforts either to the child support office, the court, or the custodial parent each week.  The court can hold in contempt non-custodial parents who neglect to search for work.

Child Support Enforcement Programs

Each state has a child support enforcement program that helps parents collect unpaid child maintenance payments.  All parents are eligible for participation in this program that is free of charge.  The programs utilize a variety of approaches to enforce child support:

  • reporting the non-paying parent who has an occupational or recreational license to the state's licensing authority and preventing his or her license from being renewed or ordering its suspension if he or she falls behind in child support payments;
  • reporting child support arrears to credit agencies, thus making it harder for the parent in question to obtain a loan unless he or she is current on child support payments;
  • notifying the obligated parent of missed payments;
  • filing a petition to enforce the child support order;
  • putting a hold on bank accounts and seizing funds from them;
  • assisting the court in issuing an arrest warrant;
  • attaching liens on the non-paying parent's vehicle, property, or boat;
  • asking employers to garnish wages;
  • seizing IRS tax refunds;
  • suspending driver licenses;
  • taking winnings from the state lottery; and
  • taking payments from worker's compensation and unemployment.

Private Collection Agencies

Although these organizations charge a substantial contingency fee (typically 20 to 35%) on the amount of child support they collect, as well as legal fees under some circumstances, they have very effective and efficient enforcement mechanisms.  They may, for instance, contact the non-paying spouse directly at his or her residence and/or threaten to place liens on his or her property.  Many of these private agencies have a website (i.e. SupportKids.com) and are a part of the umbrella association known as the Child Support Enforcement Council (CSEC).

Methods of Enforcing Payment

There are many ways that a child support enforcement agency can enforce a child support order:

1) Send out delinquency notices;

2) Apply automatic billing;

3) Identify and seize the obligor's assets;

4) Place a bond or lien upon the delinquent parent's personal or real property, respectively, to block its transfer or sale until arrears are paid;

5) Sell or seize non-custodial parent's property in order to satisfy the child support debt;

6) Order employers to withhold the obligor's wages for paying off the current child support amount and applying the rest to arrears

Interstate Enforcement

Deadbeat obligors who live in more than one state are subject to the long-arm jurisdiction of the law.  Under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), a child support order issued by a court in the child's home state must be recognized in all states.  The home state has continuing exclusive jurisdiction over the child maintenance order for as long as the child or obligor is domiciled there and only it can modify the award.  Thus, the UIFSA has streamlined child support enforcement for the courts, parties, and child support agencies by ensuring that there is only one support order in force throughout the country. 

p>Some of the UIFSA's most powerful tools for enforcing child support payments are videotaped testimony and income withholding orders which are sent to employers in other states.

Back Payments: Arrearages

Where the non-custodial parent fails to pay child support, he or she may face a court-imposed penaly of 10% on delinquent amounts that are more than 30 days old.  The obligor may also be required to reimburse the custodial parent for costs such as attorney's fees incurred in getting the child support order enforced.  In cases involving the intentional disobedience of a child support order by an obligor with the ability to pay, the court may hold him or her in contempt.  This is a a measure of last resort as the consequences are considerable in that the non-custodial parent may face jail tim until the arrears are paid.

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