How to Collect Child Support From Your Deadbeat Ex

Did you know you're not alone when it comes to trying to collect on child support? Learn what you need to do first and how you can get help from the pros.

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All divorced or separated parents have an ongoing legal obligation to financially support their children. Even so, too many kids grow up without the adequate financial support from both parents. Thanks to strict laws, though, it's harder than ever for deadbeat parents to skip out on child support. If you're affected by non-cooperation by a co-parent who owes support for your child, or simply want to find out more about collecting child support, this article is for you.

Where to Start: Get a Court Order

First things first: You'll need a court order to establish child support. Often parents try to agree an appropriate amount, including by referencing state guidelines. If you and the other parent come to an agreement, a judge will need to approve it to make it official.

If you can't come to an agreement, you'll need to ask the court or the relevant local agency to set the amount. An experienced attorney can help you file a request for a child support order.

But don't panic if paying a lawyer isn't an option. Your state or local child support office can help to establish, enforce, collect, and even modify child support. Local offices can also establish paternity if necessary, get medical support orders, locate deadbeat parents, and find assets from which support can be paid.

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Child Support Enforcement website has lots of useful information about child support and a child support office location tool that covers all 50 states and D.C.

Tools for Enforcement

Child support orders must be obeyed. When they aren't, custodial parents can ask an attorney or their local child support office for help. A deadbeat parent may be subject to any (or all) of the following:

  • Deductions: Income can be taken directly out of the deadbeat parent's wages.
  • Federal income tax intercepts: The state can intercept a large tax refund to cover late or missing child support payments.
  • License suspensions and revocations: This can affect the deadbeat's driver's license or professional licenses.
  • Passport restrictions: Parents failing to make owed payments can actually be stopped from renewing their passport (and, therefore, leaving the country).
  • Contempt of court: This could result in a fine or even jail time. The other parent parent (or their lawyer) has to go to court to obtain this.

Click here for a list of enforcement options by state, plus more on the topic of enforcing child support orders.

Federal Heat for a Deadbeat

In certain situations, parents who don't pay court-ordered child support can be criminally prosecuted. The U.S. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) can actually intervene in some circumstances if the child and non-paying parent live in different states. This sort of criminal prosecution can happen if the owing parent refuses to pay child support for over a year, owes more than $5,000, or went to another state or country to avoid paying.

The fines and/or prison time for these offenses can be considerable. Click here for more on the OIG's child support enforcement division.

If you're facing a problem collecting owed child support, we wish you good luck. For more information on child support enforcement by state, click here.