How to Collect Child Support Arrears

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Gavel and Scales

Sadly, many single parents and their children face serious financial difficulties when non-custodial parents fail to pay court-ordered child support. Today, thanks to a very strong national policy to ensure that children receive support from their parents and strict child support enforcement laws, there are more ways than ever for custodial parents to get a deliquent, non-custodial parent to pay "arrears" (past due child support). 

Enforcing Child Support                                                        

Parents have a legal right to get help from law enforcement or other governmental officials in pursuing child support arrears. The exact government agency or law enforcement department that is tasked with enforcing child support orders and collecting past due support will depend on the laws in your state and county. In some counties, it may be the district attorney and/or your local Department of Child Support Services. 

Child support is a court order, so parents that fail to obey that court order and pay support are subject to legal penalties. The difficulty many parents face is finding the "obligor" (parent that is supposed to pay child support). But, today, if you have even some identifying information such as full name, date of birth, last known address and/or a social security number, the local child support enforcement agency may be able to find the obligor pretty easily. Once he or she is located, there are several options for obtaining child support, including the following:

  • Many child support arrangements carry an automatic order for wage deductions if the obligor fails to make even one payment, or these wage garnishment orders can be obtained through enforcement procedures. This is a very effective collection procedure for those with regular jobs. However, for those obigor parents who change jobs often, are self-employed, or are unemployed, this is either only partially effective or of no help at all.
  • If the obligor is due a large tax refund, the custodial parent may be able to have state agencies intercept that payment and redirect it to make up missing child support payments. It must be remembered, however, that if any portion of that return is due to new spouse's income, it must be separated out of the amount that gets redirected to the custodial parent.
  • One of the most effective means of obtaining past due child support payments is to have the state revoke a delinquent obligor's driver’s license, or withhold other professional licenses. This can apply to doctors, lawyers, barbers, or plumbers and it can even include business licenses. For those sincerely attempting to earn the money to pay back child support, losing their driver’s license or business license may have a detrimental effect. However, for others, this is often a powerful incentive to pay the amount due.
  • Those who fail to pay court-ordered child support can be charged with contempt of court. That charge can result in fines or jail time.

In addition to state-ordered collection processes, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act allows parents to pursue collection processes in other jurisdictions, even across state lines, though the laws may be different in those locations.

Getting Legal Help with Collecting Child Support Arrears 

Parents facing financial problems due to their former spouse’s failure to pay child support are often confused and struggling to find a solution. While the cost of obtaining professional help may seem out of reach, the expertise of an experienced child support attorney may provide the guidance a parent needs. If you have questions about pursuing child support arrears, contact an experienced family law attorney for help.

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