For the most part, parents who end their marriage or their relationship are able to agree on important matters like paying for their children's expenses. However, there are some parents who either can't or won't pay.
This article will explain how child support is enforced in the State of Utah. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
A child support order is an official government order that indicates who must pay for the basic support and medical care of children.
Ordinarily, the "noncustodial" parent (the one who spends less time with the children) must make regularly scheduled child support payments to the "custodial" parent (the parent that cares for the children most of the time) so that both parents are paying a fair share of the children's expenses.
Many parents who are going through a divorce or separation are able to reach an informal compromise about child support. Sometimes their agreement is written, and sometimes it's just a spoken promise. But unless their agreement is formalized in a written court order, a court or state agency will not be able to enforce it. The agreement has to be incorporated (meaning, made part of) the official court order before a judge or agency can take action to collect support from a delinquent or "deadbeat" parent (a parent who fails to pay child support).
Parents who can't agree about child support will have to go to court and file a request for child support. Then a judge can issue an order setting the amount and frequency of payments.
For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated and who renders a support decision, please see Child Support Laws in Utah by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Once a child support order has been issued, it must be obeyed. If a delinquent parent doesn't make payments as scheduled in the order, then the custodial parent has several options to enforce the order and collect overdue support.
If a noncustodial parent has become delinquent and fallen behind on child support payments, the custodial parent may return to court and file an enforcement action. This means that the custodial parent asks the judge to make the delinquent parent follow the support order and make the required payments. Custodial parents can either file this action on their own and represent themselves in court, or hire a private attorney to pursue the action on their behalf.
The judge has several choices in these situations. It's fairly common for judges to fine or jail delinquent parents for "contempt of court" (meaning, the delinquent parent disobeyed a court order – in this case, a child support order). A judge might also require a delinquent parent to pay a portion of the outstanding child support as a condition of being released from jail. Noncustodial parents can avoid all these negative outcomes simply by paying their support in full and on time.
The Utah Department of Human Services houses a child support enforcement division known as the Office of Recovery Services (ORS), which provides child support services to both the custodial and noncustodial parent. Federal and state law require the ORS to provide such services, including:
Family court judges and the ORS have a powerful set of legal and financial tools at their disposal, all of which are designed to collect payment from parents with "arrearages" (past-due child support accounts). The tools that the courts and ORS deploy against delinquent parents will depend on the facts of the case and can include: