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Enforcing Child Support: FAQs

A parent may not make child support payments despite a court order to do so. In that case, the other parent, caregiver, or guardian may need to take further action.

But how do you enforce a child support order? Below are answers to some common questions about what you can do.

Note that while the parent paying child support is typically the non-custodial parent, this is not always the case. One parent may have to pay support when the parents share joint legal custody.

Frequently Asked Questions

My Ex Won't Pay Court-ordered Child Support. What Can I Do?

The Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 gives you some options. The act allows the government to help you collect court-ordered child support from a parent who isn't paying.

Typically, the government orders the delinquent parent to set up a payment arrangement. If the delinquent parent continues not to pay, the government can impose other consequences, such as:

  • Wage garnishment
  • Property seizure
  • Suspension of an occupational license
  • Suspension of a business license
  • Revocation of their driver's license
  • Jail time in extreme cases

The government can also report the delinquent parent to the IRS. The IRS may then make a lump sum payment from the delinquent parent's income tax refund.

Furthermore, anyone who owes more than $2,500 in child support is ineligible for a U.S. passport.

As mentioned, in extreme cases, the court can hold a non-paying parent in contempt of court for failing to follow a court order. Contempt of court could result in a jail term. But judges only sometimes resort to this option. The main goal of ordering child support is to help the child. Sending a delinquent parent to jail can frustrate that goal since they can't earn money while in prison.

Can a Different State Enforce Child Support if My Ex Moves Out of State?

Yes. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) can help you. UIFSA has procedures for you to enforce child support on a parent who lives in another state. Here are some options:

  • Ask your state court to enforce the child support order if it still has personal jurisdiction over them
  • Ask your state court to forward the order to the state where the delinquent parent lives
  • File a child support enforcement request with the delinquent parent's state
  • Ask the delinquent parent's employer to garnish their pay

Two other acts also penalize deadbeat parents. The Child Support Recovery Act of 1992 makes it a federal crime to refuse to pay child support to a parent living in another state. Also, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998 makes it a felony not to pay child support to a parent in another state.

If you can't find the delinquent parent, there are legal procedures that can help you locate the parent and enforce the child support order.

Can the Court Order My Ex To Pay Past-due Support?

Yes. Courts are very strict about enforcing child support. An "arrearage" is the overdue amount when a parent falls behind on payments. The delinquent parent is "in arrears." If a parent finds themselves in arrears, they can ask a judge to reduce their child support payments. But a judge will only reduce future payments. So, the delinquent parent must pay the arrearage in full.

If I Lose My Job, Can a Court Relieve Me of My Child Support Obligations?

As mentioned, a court won't excuse overdue child support payments. But, if you lose your job, you should petition the court to reduce your child support obligations.

Your income is a variable in the formula for calculating your support payment. So, the court may reduce your payment if you lose your job.

Remember, unless the court lowers it, you're responsible for paying the amount the court originally ordered.

Can I Discharge My Child Support Arrears if I File for Bankruptcy?

No. There's a public policy in favor of parents supporting their children. So, child support debt is one of the few debts that bankruptcy can't discharge.

My Ex and I Got Divorced Over a Year Ago. If I File for Child Support Now, Can I Collect for the Past Year?

Generally, no. Child support typically begins on the day you request it from the court. So, be sure to file for child support as soon as possible. Often, you can file for child support when you separate from your ex.

Judges in some states can sometimes order child support to begin from an earlier date. It often depends on the child's age. You should seek professional advice from someone familiar with your state laws.

My Spouse Manages All Our Finances. But They Rarely Give Me Enough Money for Groceries and Clothes for Our Children. Can I Get Child Support?

Probably not, unless you don't live with your spouse. Courts don't like interfering with matters of family lifestyle. But the court will intervene if it's in the child's best interest. For example, to protect the child from abuse or neglect.

Be aware if your spouse is not providing basic needs, the court may take custody of your child instead of ordering child support.

The Government Claims I'm Thousands of Dollars in Arrears. But I've Been Making Payments to the Other Parent. What Should I Do?

There are ways to avoid this predicament. Generally, you can pay make a child support payment to the court clerk or send it to the other parent. But the court order often does not specify which. It only includes the amount you owe. It's a good idea to ask the court to include payment instructions in the order.

Alternatively, you can agree with the other parent on how you will make the payments. Make sure to put the agreement in writing.

Don't pay in cash. Remember that you bear the burden of proving payment. If the other parent claims you are in arrears, you must prove otherwise. So, no matter who you're paying, always get a receipt.

Good evidence to show you made payment if you don't have a receipt include the following:

  • Witnesses
  • Bank records showing direct deposit to the custodial parent
  • Other letters or documents that show the parent received the payments

I Gained Joint Legal Custody of My Child. Will This Affect My Child Support Obligations?

Generally, no. Joint legal custody is when both parents can make decisions on the child's behalf. But it doesn't affect financial obligations, so it has no impact on child support.

Even in joint physical custody, the higher-income parent has to pay child support to the lower-income parent. How much time each parent spends with the child determines the amount. The specifics of how this sliding scale works vary by state.

Do I Still Have To Pay Child Support if My Ex Won't Let Me Visit My Children?

Yes. Don't confuse child support obligations with custody and visitation. They are separate legal issues. So, even if the other parent won't honor your visitation rights, you still must pay child support. You'll need to petition the court to enforce your visitation rights.

Get Help Enforcing Your Child Support Orders: Talk to an Attorney

You have options if your ex isn't complying with existing child support orders. Contact a family law attorney to learn more about how you can enforce a child support order.

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.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

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

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