Few things are more important than the financial and emotional support of minor children. When parents decide to divorce or live separately, the noncustodial parent (parent with less custodial time) usually pays money directly to the custodial parent to help support the children - this arrangement is often governed by a child support order from a court. Some noncustodial parents, however, refuse or fail to pay support. In these cases, the custodial parent must enforce the child support order through the courts or other state agencies.
This article explains how the District of Columbia enforces child support orders. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney for help.
You must have a court order establishing the amount of child support before you can ask a judge to enforce a child support order. If you and your child’s other parent have a verbal or written agreement that has not been approved by a judge and filed with the court, you should take steps to formally establish child support.
In order to establish child support, file a petition (legal request) for child support with the D. C. Family Court. If you and the other parent agree on an amount, you can sign an agreement which is subject to court approval. If you and the other parent can’t agree on an amount, the court will hold a hearing, where both parents present evidence of their incomes and the child’s financial needs. The judge will then issue an order setting the amount of child support.
You can file a petition for child support on your own, hire a private attorney, or apply for child support services through the D.C. Child Support Services Division (CSSD).
The District of Columbia has several laws designed to force noncustodial parents to pay child support and to punish those that fail to make payments.
Filing a motion for contempt is the most direct way to enforce a child support order against a parent who won’t pay. A motion for contempt is a request that the court find a noncustodial parent has willfully refused to pay support. Upon a finding of contempt, a judge can order certain punishments for the delinquent parent and will decide how that parent will catch up on the overdue payments.
There are two types of contempt: civil, and criminal.
Civil contempt is used when a person violates a court order, but not to the extent that it requires criminal charges. To prove that a noncustodial parent is in civil contempt of a child support order, you’ll have to show the following:
When a court finds a parent in civil contempt of a child support order, the judge will issue an order detailing how the parent should catch up overdue payments. In some cases, the judge may order that the parent be held in jail until the payments are made.
Criminal contempt is a more serious violation of a court order than civil contempt, and includes the possibility of jail time, whether a delinquent parent pays the overdue support or not. D.C. courts may hold a parent in “criminal contempt” when he or she has been held in civil contempt previously and attempts to force that parent to pay child support haven’t worked.
When a court finds a parent in criminal contempt, the judge can order the delinquent parent to:
The court can also place the delinquent parent on probation, so an officer can monitor whether these requirements are met.
You can file a motion for contempt on your own, with the help of an attorney, or you can ask CSSD to file a motion for contempt on your behalf.
When a court finds a parent in contempt of a child support order, the judge has several tools at his or her disposal to help the custodial parent collect payments. D.C. also has a Collection and Disbursement Unit (CDU) that helps collect child support for custodial parents. Together, the judge and CDU can:
There are several other ways to track down delinquent parents and find additional sources of income. . D.C. has a “parent locator service” that finds parents behind on child support. Also, D.C. employers are required to report names, contact information, and salary or wages for new hires to the D.C. “new hire directory.” CSSD can use the new hire directory to both locate delinquent parents and discover their income.
CSSD also uses a “financial institution data match” to find delinquent parents’ financial accounts.
Contact a D.C. family law attorney if you have questions about ways you can track down a delinquent parent’s income and assets.
While the above tools can be used to find income and assets, in D.C., there are other legal mechanisms designed to put pressure on parents to comply with child support orders. For example:
If you have any other questions about enforcing child support orders in D.C., contact a family law attorney in your area for advice.