How To Enforce Child Support Through Legal Options

Every state offers resources and options to assist custodial parents. The remedies include garnishment of wages and revocation of professional licenses. And in extreme cases, even jail time.

When parents fail to make payments, they breach their duty to support their children financially. As a result, the children don't get what they're entitled to receive. That's why states take child support enforcement seriously.

Parents with physical custody have several options for enforcing a child support order. Below is a summary of custodial parents' child support enforcement options, ranging from amicable strategies to more formal actions. 

Paying Parents Must Keep Child Support Current

The best way to enforce child support is to make sure payments stay current. Avoid unpaid child support in the first place. Yet, only the person who owes support can prevent this problem.

If possible, work with your co-parent and your state's child support enforcement office to set up a payment plan that works for everyone. You and your co-parent can come to an agreement based on your state's support guidelines.

State law determines guidelines to set child support amounts. Exactly what this payment plan might look like depends on the child support guideline rules in your state.

Once the court enters a child support order, it's no longer up for negotiation. If you're struggling to get your child's other parent to make timely support payments, you're not alone. There are a number of resources available to you. Your child's other parent must pick up the care-related costs they promised or were ordered to pay.

Connect With a Child Support Agency

There are numerous state child support agencies in the country. These state agencies can establish and enforce support orders. Most states require the parent to send payments to the child support agency. The agency will then forward payment to the custodial parent.

However, the frequency and amount of payments may have some flexibility. Depending on each state's guidelines for child support, the amount of child support and when to pay can differ. A local family law attorney can advise you on the different possibilities offered in your state.

Choose a Helpful Child Support Payment Schedule

Once the judge sets the child support order according to the state's child support guidelines, the order includes the frequency of payments. Some states may present options for your payment schedule.

Payments may be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. The overall amount of support wouldn't change, but some parents may find that one option works best for them.

For example, paying every Wednesday could make child support part of a usual routine. Or, choosing one sum at the end of every month might give a parent with variable income enough time to pay more consistently.

If the non-custodial parent can no longer afford child support payments, they can seek a modification to their child support order. This can depend on each individual state's law requirements on the non-custodial parent's inability to pay current support amounts.

Ask To Set Up Automatic Payments

Forgetting to pay on time is generally not a valid excuse. If the non-custodial parent claims nonpayment was due to a mistake, automatic payments can be a mutually beneficial solution. 

The availability of specific payment methods varies by state. Automatic payments via bank account or credit card are common. Yet, the non-custodial parent must ensure their account or card will always have enough to cover the payment amount.

Often, a state will allow non-custodial parents to set up an automatic withdrawal from their paychecks. This helps to prevent the paying parent from being in arrears. They must follow the specific child support order and/or the withholding order.

Get Child Support Enforcement Actions Through the Court 

Unfortunately, some non-custodial parents fall behind on child support payments, resulting in past-due child support. When this happens, custodial parents must go to court and begin an enforcement action. Family courts tend to handle child support cases.

As the custodial parent, you can show you have an existing order that entitles you to support. You can also show that you didn't receive the payments. The government can then help you collect the back child support payments from the non-custodial parent.

Every state has a statute that provides different child support enforcement options. They typically include the following actions.

Income Withholding or Wage Garnishment

The child support agency acts based on the child support order or the enforcement order. The agency submits the income withholding or wage garnishment portion of the court order to the paying parent's employer. The employer withholds child support from the paycheck of the parent in child support payment arrears. It is also possible that child support payments can be withheld from worker's compensation benefits under certain circumstances.

Income Tax Refund or Benefit Interception

Federal law allows this rule. A child support agency can take any payment the government owes the non-custodial parent and apply it to child support. Tax refunds, Social Security checks, and lottery winnings are all susceptible to interception.

Liens and Attachments

Child support enforcement can also attach any of the non-custodial parent's property through liens. This means that the government owns part of the property. The non-custodial parent cannot sell the property without paying the government. This applies to real estate and personal property, such as cars and bank accounts.

Passport Denial

The government denies a passport to the non-custodial parent as an incentive to pay child support. The denial is in effect as long as the child support remains unpaid. It has the added benefit that the paying parent won't leave the country.

License Suspension

Child support enforcement can suspend occupational licenses. This includes driver's licenses in some instances. Child support nonpayment is one of the few reasons for driver's license suspension that doesn't involve a traffic offense.

Jail Time

When all else fails, there may be an option to send the non-custodial parent to jail. They are in contempt of court. This may only occur after an enforcement hearing before a court. States use this as a last resort. It's preferable to find a way for the parent to pay.

Explore Your Child Support Enforcement Options With a Lawyer

You can learn more about these resources and get a strong advocate by reaching out to a child support or family law attorney near you. They can help you with getting the other parent to follow through on child support if arrearages are a concern.

If you can't afford an attorney, you can also seek child support services for free or at little cost through public assistance. You might also consider contacting your local child support agency or department of child support services.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Some states allow you to set up child support with forms and court processes
  • You may need legal help to set up or modify child support arrangements
  • If there is conflict, an attorney can advise if the other parent’s actions are legal 

Get tailored advice about paying or receiving child support. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child support arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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