Tuesday Legal Tip: Child Support Enforcement

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Tuesday’s legal tips are a discussion of common legal questions I heard frequently from clients back when I practiced law. However, this is just information, not legal advice, so be sure to contact a lawyer about your specific situation.

Last week, we talked about how child support amounts are calculated, but a court’s child support order is basically worthless without some way to enforce it. If a non-custodial parent refuses to pay child support as ordered — or is unable to pay — the custodial parent has two main options to enforce the court’s order.

1) State Agency Assistance.  Every state has an agency tasked with helping custodial parents enforce existing child support orders. Usually, this is the same agency that helps the parents obtain the child support order to begin with. The powers of these agencies vary by state, with some agencies having authority to take enforcement action without going to court first while other agencies simply help the parents navigate the court system.

When the non-custodial parent falls behind on his child support payments, state agencies may have authority to seize the non-custodial parent’s tax refund or other sources of income, place liens against vehicles or real estate and suspend or revoke hunting/fishing licenses, driver’s licenses and professional licenses.

2)  Contempt of Court. State courts also have authority to help parents enforce child support orders (and other orders issued in family law cases). Often, the custodial parent must hire her own lawyer to bring a case in court, but state laws can allow the custodial parent to get her expenses reimbursed by the non-custodial parent. Courts can use the same methods as state agencies to enforce a child support order, but they can also find the non-custodial parent “in contempt” for failing to pay support as ordered. Once the non-custodial parent is found in contempt, the court can impose fines and penalties, including jail time.

The bottom line with child support orders and enforcement is that there are many options available for custodial parents who aren’t getting the financial support they need.

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