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Child Support Enforcement Options

A parent with physical custody of a child has several options for enforcing the child support order for their co-parent. States have quite a few child support enforcement options at their disposal, including garnishment of wages, revocation of professional licenses, and even jail time in some extreme cases. When support payments aren't made, it's assumed that the child(ren) and custodial parent suffer as a result, so it's taken very seriously. Enforcement is done by court order.

Below is a summary of custodial parents' child support enforcement options.

Keep Child Support Payments Current

The best way to enforce child support is to make sure payments stay current. 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 upon your state's support guidelines. Exactly what this payment plan might look like depends on the child support guideline rules in your state.

Most states require that payments be sent to the child support agency, who will then forward the payment to the custodial payment. However, there may be a degree of flexibility when it comes to the frequency and amount of payments. Depending on each individual state's guidelines for child support, the amount of child support and when it is to be paid can differ. A local family law attorney will be able to advise you on the different possibilities offered in your state.

Once a payment schedule is set up, many states offer options for payments. Once the child support order has been ordered pursuant to the state's child support guidelines, it will state the payment options such as that they can be made weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Non-custodial parents may write a personal check, but some states offer automatic payments through a bank account or credit card. Whether or not one payment method is available can depend on the child support order and/or the withholding order. Some states will allow non-custodial parents to set up an automatic withdrawal from their paychecks to prevent the non-custodial parent from being in arrears.

Additionally, 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 inability to pay current child support order, the non-custodial parent may be able to seek a modification of the current child support order.

When Child Support Payments Lapse

Unfortunately, some noncustodial parents fall behind on their child support payments. When this happens, the custodial parents have to go to court and begin an enforcement action. Family courts, often called domestic courts, tend to handle child support cases.

After proving that they're entitled to child support payments and didn't receive them, the custodial parent must attempt to collect the back child support payments from the noncustodial parent. Every state's family code or statute has several different child support enforcement options, including the following:

  • Income Withholding or Wage Garnishment: Pursuant to the child support order or enforcement order, the child support agency will submit the income withholding or wage garnishment part of the court order to the non-custodial parent's employer withhold child support from the paycheck of the parent who is in child support payment arrears. If your child's other parent has workers' compensation benefits, it is also possible that child support payments can be withheld from them under a variety of circumstances.
  • Tax Refund or Benefit Interception: The child support agency can take any payments the government owes the non-custodial parent and apply it directly 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, and the non-custodial parent cannot sell the property without paying the government. Real estate, cars, and bank accounts can all be attached.
  • Passport Denial: As an incentive for the non-custodial parent to pay child support, the government will deny him a passport as long as the child support remains unpaid. This has the added benefit of ensuring he will not leave the country.
  • License Suspension: If the non-custodial parent requires a license to work, child support enforcement can suspend the license until child support is paid. This includes driver's licenses in some instances.
  • Jail Time: When all else fails, there may be an option to send the non-custodial parent to jail. This may only occur after an enforcement hearing before a court. This is a last resort, since many states would rather find some way for the non-custodial parent to pay child support, which can't happen if they're incarcerated.

Explore Your Child Support Enforcement Options: Contact a Lawyer

When 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 and there are a number of resources available to you. It's important that your child's other parent pick up the costs they've promised to pay, from the expenses associated with your child's health insurance to every other cost of child care.

You can learn more about these resources and even retain a strong advocate by reaching out to a skilled child support or family law attorney near you. They can help you in getting your child's other parent to follow through on their child support obligation, if arrearages are a concern.

If you can't afford an attorney, you can also seek child support services for free or little cost through a variety of entities. For more information about such entities that provide public assistance, consider reviewing FindLaw's page on this matter. You might also consider contacting your local child support agency. Your local department of child support services could assist, as well.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified child support attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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