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Child Support Enforcement Options

Parents with physical custody have several options for enforcing a child support order. 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. So, the states take child support enforcement seriously.

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.

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. Avoid unpaid child support in the first place. 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.

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, there may be a degree of flexibility regarding the frequency and amount of payments. Depending on each individual 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.

Child Support Payments

After you make a payment schedule, your state may present options. Once the judge sets the child support order according to the state's child support guidelines, the order includes the frequency of payments.

You may pay weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Non-custodial parents can write personal checks. But automatic payments via bank account or credit card are more common. The availability of specific payment methods depends.

You must follow your specific child support order and/or the withholding order. 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.

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.

When Child Support Payments Lapse

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, often called domestic courts, tend to handle child support cases.

The custodial parent shows that they have an existing order that entitles them to support. They also show that they didn't receive the payments. Then they attempt to collect the back child support payments from the non-custodial parent. Every state has a statute that provides different child support enforcement options, including the following:

  • 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.
  • 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.

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. 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 child care cost.

Explore Your Child Support Enforcement Options: Contact a Lawyer

You can learn more about these resources and 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 at 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.

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