Can I Ask for Overdue Child Support Payments in California?

It's more common than you might think: demanding child support long after you'd given up chasing after it. Usually, one spouse stops paying the court-ordered child support, and the spouse who is supposed to receive it gives up. But then, something changes and they decide to go after the money they are rightfully owed.

Can I ask for overdue child support to be paid back in full?

Here is an example:

"Our son is now in college and I am having trouble helping him make ends meet. Can my ex still be ordered to pay what is owed even though our son is now an adult?"

Short answer: Yes.

California's rules on past-due child support

California has no statute of limitations (or time limit) on the ability of a parent to collect past-due child support. Child support is enforceable by the court until paid in full. On top of that, interest collects at the legal rate of 10% for each year the principal amount of child support is unpaid. Therefore, as a result of delinquency, your ex could potentially owe the child even more support than what the court initially ordered due. In some cases, penalties of up to 72% can be imposed on child support payments that are delinquent for over 30 days.

There is thus a huge potential to receive far more money than what is actually owed. That is because the law believes that parents have a moral imperative to support their children, and when they fail to do so, the law punishes them for their bad acts. However, penalties can only be collected in egregious instances, and only by parents directly. In some extreme cases, an obligor parent can even face felony charges for unpaid support.

How do I ask for overdue child support payments?

Typically, parents seeking child support arrears can work with the California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) and will not necessarily need to hire a lawyer. This is a state-run agency that enforces child support orders free of charge for parents who open a case. An application to do so can be found online at their website,, and will need to be mailed in before they can look into any issues. Always advise DCSS if there is a child support order already in place.

Once a case is opened, the other parent must be alerted, which can be difficult if you have lost touch with them. Your cooperation and assistance will help the agency track them down in order to recoup any child support arrears. The good news is, even if the other parents have moved to a different state, the California child support order is still enforceable, no matter in which state they live.

How can I be sure that support is paid on time?

Usually, once the agency is involved, there will be an income withholding order approved by the judge (or even agreed to by the other parent). An income withholding order is sent to the obligor's employer, who will withhold child support automatically from their paycheck, ensuring it gets to you (or the child) before the obligor parent ever receives it.

The owing parent is required to notify DCSS and you of any employment changes. Additionally, if they refuse to pay, they can be held in contempt of court, resulting in jail time, fines, or even suspension of licenses. However, this is not always the best outcome as they will not be able to make a living (or make any child support payments).

Sometimes, the court will allow parents to agree on either a lump-sum payment that is lower than the original obligation plus interest or allow an installment plan. For example, if your ex owes $15,000 in child support plus interest, you and the obligor can come to an agreement where only $7,500 is paid in a lump sum, and you can forgive the rest of the arrears, subject to court approval. There are many options and plenty of time, but working with DCSS will help clarify and expedite most support issues involved.


Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.