Unfortunately, many single parents and their children face serious financial difficulties when noncustodial parents fail to pay court-ordered child support. Today, thanks to a very strong national policy to ensure that children receive support from their parents and strict child support enforcement laws, there are more ways than ever for custodial parents to collect past due child support.
Parents have a legal right to get help from law enforcement or other governmental officials in pursuing child support. The exact government agency or law enforcement department that is tasked with enforcing child support orders and collecting past due support will depend on the laws in your state and county. In some counties, it may be the district attorney and/or your local department of child support services.
The U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement provides links to local offices in all 50 states and D.C..
It may be difficult for custodial parents to locate the "obligor" (parent that's supposed to pay child support). But if you have even some identifying information such as full name, date of birth, last known address, and/or a social security number, your local child support enforcement agency may be able to find your child's other parent pretty easily. Once located, these state agencies have several options for obtaining child support which are covered below. Child support is a court order, so parents that fail to pay are subject to variety of serious penalties.
Courts can issue orders for automatic wage deductions, which are very effective collection procedures for those parents who have regular jobs. The state can order the parent's employer to deduct the amount owing in child support from the parent's paycheck and send it to the local child support office or directly to the custodial parent on behalf of the child(rent).
However, for those obligor parents who change jobs often, are self-employed, or are unemployed, this is either only partially effective or of no help at all
Under the federal Treasury Offset Program, state child support enforcement agencies can report parents who fail to pay child support to the federal Treasury Department. The Treasury Department can then intercept (take) federal tax returns and other payments to offset overdue child support. But if any portion of that refund is due to a new spouse's income, it can be separated out of the amount that gets redirected to the custodial parent.
This same rule applies to coronavirus stimulus payments. In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES act), which is a $2 trillion stimulus package to provide financial relief to businesses and individuals dealing with the COVID-19 economic fallout.
Under this package, American households will receive stimulus checks based on annual income: up to $1,200 per person, $2,400 for couples, and $500 per child under 17. You can see how much you’ll receive using Nolo’s online stimulus calculator.
However, if you’re on the Treasury Offset list for unpaid child support, your stimulus check will be reduced by the amount you owe. To find out if your name is on the Treasury Offset list, call the toll-free IRS number at 1-800-304-3107.
One of the most effective way of obtaining past due child support payments is to have the state revoke a driver’s license or withhold other professional licenses from parents who have overdue child support obligations. This can apply to doctors, lawyers, barbers, or plumbers and it can even include business licenses.
For those sincerely attempting to earn the money to pay back child support, losing their driver’s license or business license may have a detrimental effect. However, for others, this is often a powerful incentive to pay the amount due.
Those who fail to pay court-ordered child support might also be charged with contempt of court, which can result in fines or jail time.
In addition to state-ordered collection processes, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act allows parents to pursue collection processes in other jurisdictions, even across state lines, though the laws may be different in those locations.
Parents facing financial problems due to their former spouse’s failure to pay child support are often confused and struggling to find a solution. While the cost of obtaining professional help may seem out of reach, the expertise of an experienced child support attorney may provide the guidance a parent needs. If you have questions about pursuing child support arrears, contact an experienced family law attorney for help.