This article provides an overview of what you can do if your child’s other parent stops making child support payments, or isn’t making full payments on time.
Understanding Child Support Obligations
Although both parents have an obligation to support their children, typically one parent will make child support payments after a divorce (or after separation if the parents were never married).
For a complete description of child support in Georgia, see Child Support in Georgia, by Susan Bishop.
What Happens When a Parent Fails to Pay Child Support?
Judges have the authority to punish parents that violate (disobey) child support orders. If you already have a court order directing your child’s other parent to pay support and you aren’t receiving the payments, you can bring a motion for enforcement in superior court asking the court to issue additional orders and hold the non-paying parent in contempt. If the court finds that the non-paying parent is in contempt, a judge could impose fines and even jail time.
The exact procedure you need to follow depends on which county you live in; many county superior courts have forms you can fill out on your own. You’ll have to serve (deliver) your motion (legal paperwork) on the other parent, and the court will set a hearing date, generally within 30 days of service.
At the hearing on your motion, the parent charged with contempt will have a chance to explain the reasons for the failure to pay support. If you need help finding the right court or forms, you can consult the Georgia Judicial Branch’s Self-Help Resources. You can also contact your local court or a local family law attorney for more specific information.
Georgia parents can also seek assistance with obtaining and enforcing child support orders from the Division of Child Support Services of the Georgia Department of Human Services (DCSS). You can contact DCSS to find the location of the office serving your county, and with the online system, you can apply for services, make payments, and check payment status on an open case.
DCSS services are free for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Other applicants may have to pay minimal fees. Available services include:
- establishing and enforcing child support orders or orders for medical support of a child
- periodically reviewing and modifying (changing) child support orders
- collecting and distributing support payments
- locating absent parents
- establishing paternity, and
- enforcing orders for alimony as part of a child support enforcement case.
DCSS also provides services to non-custodial parents. The “Fatherhood Program” helps parents who are having difficulty making child support payments due to unemployment or underemployment with services such as job counseling and job placement.
DCSS has many tools available to ensure that parents pay support and maintain medical insurance for children. These include the following:
Income withholding. When a Georgia parent who has been ordered to pay child support is receiving regular payments from a job or from unemployment or workers compensation benefits, DCSS can order the employer or the paying agency to withhold the support payment and deposit it directly into the recipient’s bank account or place the payment on a debit card for the support recipient. Georgia businesses are required to report new or returning hires to a state support registry managed by DCSS. A non-custodial parent who isn’t receiving a regular paycheck or benefit check can set up direct transfers of support payments from a bank account.
Liens and seizures. DCSS can collect past due child support payments by filing liens for seizure of property such as a house, a car, a matched bank account, or a lump-sum worker's compensation settlement. DCSS can also intercept lottery winnings of $2,500 or more, and federal or state income tax refunds.
License restrictions. Licensing agencies in charge of granting drivers, professional, occupational, hunting, or fishing licenses in Georgia are required to check an applicant’s child support payment status. An agency can suspend a license, or refuse to issue a new or renewal license for non-payment of support.
Passport denial. A parent who owes or has previously owed past-due child support of $2,500 or more is not eligible to receive an initial or renewal passport from the U.S. State Department, unless the parent can document that the back support never exceeded $2,500, or that travel outside the country is necessary for employment, a serious medical emergency, or the imminent death of an immediate family member.
Credit Agency Reporting. DCSS will report back support amounts of over $1,000, and sometimes less, to credit reporting agencies.
Civil or criminal contempt. DCSS can also file contempt of court actions, which may result in a fine or a jail sentence.