All parents have a duty to provide support for their children after a separation or divorce. Many parents continue to do so, but some get behind or stop paying child support. As a result, many children miss out on the benefits of receiving the financial support they need.
This article will explain how child support is enforced and how past due support is collected in Oklahoma. If you still have questions about child support enforcement, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.
When parents divorce or separate, one parent (usually the noncustodial parent or parent with less parenting time) will typically be obligated to make support payments to the other parent (the custodial parent).
In Oklahoma, courts use child support guidelines to determine the appropriate amount of support. The guidelines consider both parents’ incomes as well as the number of children they must support and the amount of time the children spend with each parent. For more information on how child support is set, see Child Support in Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma, child support must be collected by income assignment, meaning that the non-custodial parent’s income must be garnished to collect the support obligation. Income assignment can only be avoided if a parent shows the court that good cause exists to waive income assignment or if both parents agree to waive it.
Parents can agree on a child support amount in a separation agreement, or the court may establish an amount to be paid. The court must then make the support obligation part of a court order - there must be an official court order governing child support for the obligation to be enforceable by a judge at a later date.
When there is no agreement, parents can ask their local child support enforcement agency to open a case and seek a support order on behalf of their child(ren). Check the Oklahoma Department of Human Services website for more information on various services offered to parents seeking child support.
There are several methods of enforcing support orders and collecting overdue payments. First, parents may go to court (either on their own or with the help of an attorney) and ask a judge to enforce a child support order and make additional orders aimed at collecting payments. Alternatively, parents can go to the local child support enforcement office and ask for help.
If the parent ordered to pay child support (sometimes called the “non-custodial” or “paying parent”) fails to make payments, the parent receiving support (or his or her attorney) can request that the non-custodial parent be held in “contempt of court,” which means a judge will punish the non-custodial parent for disobeying the court’s order to pay.
The custodial parent may begin this process by filing a motion (written legal request) and asking a judge to order the now delinquent non-custodial parent to appear in court and explain why he or she hasn’t paid. Both parents have the right to an attorney, but many courts have motion forms available on their websites for those parents who want to represent themselves.
The local district attorney may also file a motion on behalf of the state to bring the delinquent parent before the court and ask for a contempt finding - this proceeding is also used to encourage the parent to pay the overdue support.
A contempt finding can result in fines and jail time. The court will consider the specific circumstances of the case, including any previous contempt findings, when determining the length of the sentence or amount of the fine.
Support contempt is usually a civil action, but is unlike other debt collection matters, because it carries with it a potential jail sentence. If a parent is held in contempt, he or she may receive a jail sentence, which typically lasts between 30 to 90 days. The purpose of the sentence is to encourage payment, so the delinquent parent can get out of jail by paying an agreed-upon amount of his or her support obligation, usually in one lump sum.
If the paying parent is severely delinquent in payments, he or she may face criminal contempt, which may be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony and carries with it harsher consequences of up to four years in jail and a $5000 dollar fine.
Oklahoma has local Human Service Centers in each county, which you can find by going to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services website. Human Service Centers provide a variety of services, including:
In Oklahoma, courts and the local Department of Human Services ("DHS") may use the following enforcement methods to encourage parents to pay child support and collect overdue payments:
You can locate the support enforcement agency in your county by visiting the Oklahoma Department of Human Services website and clicking on “County Offices.”