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Child Support Law

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Child Support Enforcement

If a court orders a parent to pay child support, that does not necessarily mean they will pay. If you’re not getting the full amount of child support promised, you can take your case to family court to enforce the order. If there is a change in your financial situation, you may also want to request a modification.

Child support cases can be different depending on where you live. If you need legal advice about child support enforcement actions in your state, talk with an experienced family law attorney.

Enforcing a Child Support Order

You’ve been to court and have a court order or agreement for the amount of child support to be paid each month based on child support guidelines. The order provides for how much child support payments must be and where to send them. However, what can you do if the other parent has stopped paying? You may be wondering how to now enforce that child support order.

Child Support Services

You may also be able to sign up for child support services with your local office of child support enforcement. This agency could be within a county attorney’s office or a local child support office. The child support agency can assist you with setting up things like an income withholding order (wage garnishment) for the monthly support amount, plus any ordered payments toward any past-due support amounts.

If the parent who has been court-ordered to pay child support left the area and you do not know where they moved, the child support agency may also be able to assist in finding where the noncustodial parent lives or works. They can also send information to the IRS at the end of each tax year if the noncustodial parent owes you money. The IRS can intercept their tax refund to pay you past-due child support.

Some enforcement offices may also use periodic reviews to make sure the paying parent stays on schedule. They can also assist with child support modifications or file contempt actions if the orders are not paid. Some states may also authorize the office of child support enforcement to refer a parent with significant child support arrears for criminal charges for nonpayment of support.

These agencies typically do not represent either parent but are there to assist with enforcing (and sometimes modifying) the court order. Depending on your state’s laws, they may also be able to have the late-paying parent’s driver’s license suspended until they are current on support payments.

How an Attorney Can Help You Get Child Support Payments

Another option is to hire your own attorney to file petitions with the court, such as asking for contempt or lump-sum payments. If payments were not going through the local office of child support enforcement, you may need to show accurate records of what should have been paid and what you received. 

In general, it is best not to accept cash payments from the other parent. Make sure child support is paid via check, money order, or another way to keep a record of the payment.

A court can issue other garnishment liens against property or a bank account. Generally, the local child support agency would not do this, but a private attorney can seek to have that past-due amount reduced to a legal judgment. This past payment due could include interest. Once a judgment is court-ordered, a lien or garnishment can be issued to collect money from the other parent’s bank accounts.

There are several options to return to court to enforce the child support court order. Each has benefits and drawbacks. Using the local child support agency could take a long time to set up services and get into court. A private attorney can usually get you into court much quicker. However, if you have public assistance, such as Medicaid or state health insurance for your child, you may have signed paperwork as part of that process which automatically authorized your local child support agency to get involved.

How Do I Defend a Child Support Enforcement Case?

If there is a dispute about what you paid, get as much documentation showing what you paid, who you paid it to, and when you paid it. Even if you were subject to an income withholding order, that might not be enough to cover your monthly support. In some cases, the state department of human services may not take out the correct amount, or sometimes the local child support office did not apply funds accurately.

When an income withholding order is issued, state law determines how much of your discretionary income may be taken out of your check. Sometimes your court-ordered child support may exceed the percentage of what the income withholding order may garnish from your check. It will be your responsibility to then pay the difference each month to satisfy the court-ordered child support.

In general, it is not recommended to pay child support in cash. Make sure you are able to track any payments and keep detailed records.

What if I Can’t Pay Child Support?

If you know you are behind, it is best to address it immediately. You may be able to go to court to get a modification if you have a change in circumstances. It may help to show how you can catch up and make good-faith efforts to pay something even before the court date.

Even if you cannot pay the full amount and do not yet meet the guidelines to request a child support modification, paying something can go a long way, as it can show you are not just ignoring a court order. This also shows you are not ignoring your financial responsibility to support your child. This can be important if the custodial parent is seeking jail time for nonpayment of past-due support.

Another option includes talking with the other parent, especially if there is a quick, unexpected change in income. It may not relieve you of the full, court-ordered amount, but it could keep you out of hot water with the judge.

But you should also talk to an experienced child support attorney as quickly as possible. They can inform you of your rights and options.

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