Once you've obtained an order for child support from your child's other parent, that parent must continue to pay child support on time and in full until the child support obligation ends, which in Alabama is usually when the child reaches age 19. This article provides an overview of what you, as the custodial parent, can do if your child's other parent, the noncustodial parent, isn't paying child support on time, in full, or at all. If after reading this article you still have questions about how to enforce your child support order, you should speak to an Alabama family law attorney.
For background information about child support and obtaining an order in Alabama, read Child Support in Alabama.
Once you have an order for child support, the noncustodial parent must pay the amount ordered on time and in accordance with the order, usually every week or every two weeks. If the noncustodial parent doesn't pay, it is considered a violation of the order. Once the payments are missed, you can "enforce" your order. The Child Support Enforcement Division of the Alabama Department of Human Services (CSED) can assist you.
Alternatively, you can hire a private attorney, who can go to court on your behalf and ask a judge to enforce your child support order and issue new orders aimed at collecting support. It may even be the same judge that issued the original child support order in your case. This may be a good option for those parents that can afford a private attorney and in those locations where the local CSED office may be backlogged with cases. For more information about this option, you should contact a local family law attorney.
If you or your child receives public assistance, CSED's services are free. If you or your child are not receiving public assistance, CSED charges only a small fee for their services.
While most parents who owe child support pay on time every time, sometimes, a parent does not want to pay and must be encouraged by more than the mere existence of a court order. To do this, the law makes paying child support more appealing by taking away other things that the owing parent wants, like a license or a passport. However, taking away the owing parent's visitation or parenting time with the child is not an option.
CSED uses the following methods to further entice an owing parent to pay child support:
In order for any of these methods of enforcement to take effect, the noncustodial parent must receive notice, or be informed, of the action being taken by CSED. Once the debt is paid and proof of payment is provided, the restriction will be lifted.
There is one additional tool that you can use to entice an owing parent to pay child support: civil contempt of court. However, you must go to court to obtain a contempt order. When a person is held in "contempt," it means that they have not done what a court has ordered them to do.
When an owing parent is at least 30 days behind in payments, then you, your attorney, or CSED can ask a court to find the parent in contempt. Again the owing parent must be notified and told to come to court. If you or CSED proves that the parent has purposefully or intentionally failed to pay the child support order, the owing parent will be found to be in contempt of the order. One possible penalty of being found in contempt is jail time.
For more information about CSED, including contact information, check out the Alabama Department of Human Resources Website.
For the full text of the statutes governing the available child support enforcement tools, see Ala. Code § § 30-3, Articles 3, 8 and 9.