What to Do If Your Ex Refuses to Pay Child Support
In an ideal world, every parent would agree to support their children’s health and welfare, even after a divorce. But we know that isn’t always the case, and sometimes, one parent refuses to pay the child support they are legally responsible for.
If your ex refuses to pay the child support ordered by the court at the time of your divorce, you have options. You could report nonpayment to your local child support services office to get payment enforced through them, or you could take the matter to court and get a judgment against your ex.
Enforcing a child support order
A child support order is a legal order issued by the court obligating one parent to provide financial support for the couple’s children, typically to the custodial parent. The support order specifies the terms of that support, the monthly payment amount, how it is to be paid, when it is due, and how long payment will be required.
A spouse who refuses to pay court-ordered child support is violating the law, and both federal and state governments can get involved to enforce the order. A variety of payment options exist, depending on the state where you live.
Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws
Each state has its own child support system, and the laws and enforcement surrounding child support differ from one state to the next. In most states, failure to make payments can have serious consequences for the delinquent parent. It could even result in jail time.
If you aren’t receiving child support payments from your ex, your first step should be to familiarize yourself with your state’s laws. A clear understanding of your rights will help you take the appropriate steps.
Ask the court for help
If you have a child support order and your spouse has not been paying, you can file a motion asking for help from the court in your county. A hearing will be set, and you and your ex-spouse will present your case information to the judge. If the court finds that your ex has the ability to pay but has willfully stopped paying, it has numerous options to collect delinquent and ongoing payments.
Speak with an attorney
Because states have different laws concerning child support and enforcement, an attorney with expertise in your state is an on-point choice. Depending on how you decide to pursue enforcement, your attorney can advise you, help you file your motion with the court, and prepare you for your hearing before the judge.
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Methods of enforcement
Your local Department of Child Support Services or Office of Child Support Services may get involved in the enforcement efforts. Your local office has options available to enforce payment of delinquent child support such as the following:
- Wage garnishment
- Intercepting income tax refunds
- Freezing financial accounts
- Suspending or revoking driver’s or professional licenses
- Putting liens on property owned by your ex
You could also personally take the matter to court to file a judgment against your ex. If your ex is delinquent in their support payments, you can file a motion for contempt of court in the county where you reside, and the matter can be heard and enforced by the court.
Filing for contempt of court
When a person violates a court order, they can be charged with “contempt of court.” In the case of child support nonpayment, the delinquent parent can be charged with civil contempt when the other parent brings the matter to the court’s attention through a motion.
In this situation, the judge may hold your ex in contempt and issue an order stating how they will be required to pay back the money owed in your child support case. The court has numerous options, including the following:
- Garnishment of your ex’s wages or bank account
- Ordering the funds to be taken from other income such as a pension, Social Security disability, veteran’s disability, unemployment, or any other type of income your ex gets
- Placing a lien on your ex’s property
- Ordering the sale of your ex’s property to raise money for delinquent support
The judge may instill other penalties, including fines and even jail time if the state chooses to seek criminal contempt charges. If nonpayment appears to be a continuing issue, the court may take further actions to guard against future delinquencies.
The most common way the court enforces payment of overdue child support is through wage garnishment. This is a directive by the court to seize a portion of your ex’s wages.
Wage garnishment will go into effect when the court or state agency notifies your ex’s employer of a judgment. The employer is then legally responsible for withholding a portion of your ex’s paycheck to pay child support. This is typically a percentage of your ex’s weekly paycheck and can be significant, depending on the circumstances.
Writ of execution or property seizure
If wage garnishment is not sufficient to cover the delinquent child support, or there are no wages to garnish, a writ of execution may be ordered by the court. A writ of execution can force the seizure of your ex’s property for nonpayment of child support. This could include your ex’s home, vehicles, investments, accounts receivable, and other assets.
Suggested reading: What Is a Divorce Coach, and Do I Need One?
After a divorce, you may find that finances are tight. Without timely child support payments, you may be unable to meet your financial obligations, and your family could suffer for it. Because family courts take children’s best interests seriously, they often take an aggressive stance with child support enforcement. If you need help, our network of legal professionals at Hello Divorce may be able to direct you on your next moves. Schedule a free 15-minute call to see how we can help you before, during, or after your divorce.