Unfortunately, some parents who are obligated to pay child support fail to make their payments on time, or even worse, stop paying altogether. For custodial parents seeking to enforce child support obligations against non-paying parents, Pennsylvania offers several resources. This article provides a general overview of how to enforce your child support order in Pennsylvania. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
When parents separate or divorce, the parent who does not live with the child most of the time (the non-custodial parent) is usually required to pay child support. The child support obligation can be established by going to court or through the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement program (CSE). The monthly child support amount to be paid by the non-custodial parent will be listed in an official child support order, which must be obeyed as long as it is in effect or until the child reaches the age of majority. For more information on how child support is calculated, see Child Support in Pennsylvania.
If you need to establish child support for your child, you can either work directly with your child's other parent and the courts to obtain an order, or you can hire a private attorney to request a child support order from the court. Alternatively, you can apply to receive support through Pennsylvania’s CSE. Review the Pennsylvania Child Support Handbook for more information on completing an application for child support. The CSE provides additional services to custodial parents who need help locating a parent, establishing paternity, and enforcing and collecting support.
If a non-custodial parent fails to pay the full amount of child support on time, he or she is violating (disobeying) a court's child support order and may face serious consequences by doing so. It's important for custodial parents to understand how to collect overdue payments under these circumstances.
A custodial parent who is not receiving court-ordered child support can file a court action to enforce the order - custodial parents can do so on their own or with the help of a private attorney. An attorney will file paperwork on your behalf and will represent you at an enforcement hearing before a judge. However, if you are unable to afford an attorney, you can try to file the child support enforcement paperwork on your own.
The forms needed to file a child support enforcement action, also called an Order to Show Cause, are generally available in hard copy form at your local courthouse or online, through your local court's website. After you have filed the enforcement paperwork and properly delivered it to the other parent, the court will set a hearing on your Order to Show Cause. See the following article on What is a Show Cause Hearing for information on how to prepare.
Alternatively, parents can request help from Pennsylvania’s CSE, which can enforce current child support orders by pursuing overdue payments on your child's behalf. Typically, CSE charges a very small fee to open a case. CSE has several enforcement tools available to it, which are covered below.
The courts and CSE can order or initiate the following against a parent that has failed to pay court-ordered child support:
In addition, a court may hold a delinquent parent in "contempt of court" for the failure to pay court-ordered child support. Contempt is a decision by a judge that a parent has willfully disobeyed a court order. If a court finds a parent in contempt, the judge may also order the parent to pay monetary fines and serve up to six months in jail. Parents can usually avoid serving much jail time by paying the full amount of back child support owed.
If you have additional questions about how to enforce a child support order in Pennsylvania, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.
For more information on the enforcement of child support orders in Pennsylvania and to read the relevant child support statute, see Pennsylvania Code, Title 231, Chapter 1910.