Child Support Enforcement Options

A parent with custody of a child has several options for enforcing the child support order for their co-parent. This article reviews some of these options, and when they may be appropriate.

Keep Child Support Payments Current

The best way to enforce child support is to make sure payments stay current. If possible, work with your co-parent and your state's child support enforcement office to set up a payment plan that works for everyone. Exactly what this payment plan might look like depends on the child support enforcement rules in your state.

Most states require that payments be sent to the child support agency, who will then forward the payment to the custodial payment. However, there may be a degree of flexibility when it comes to the frequency and amount of payments. A local family attorney will be able to advise you on the different possibilities offered in your state.

Once a payment schedule is set up, many states offer options for payments. Non-custodial parents may always write a personal check, but some states offer automatic payments through a bank account or credit card. Some states will allow noncustodial parents to set up an automatic withdrawal from their paychecks even before the noncustodial parent falls into arrears. Additionally, if the noncustodial parent can no longer afford child support payments, he or she can seek a modification to their child support order.

When Child Support Payments Lapse

Unfortunately, some noncustodial parents fall behind on their child support payments. When this happens, the noncustodial parent has to go to court and begin an enforcement action. After she proves that she is entitled to child support payments and did not receive them, the court must the attempt to collect the back child support payments from the noncustodial parent. The court may do this in several different ways:

  • Income Withholding or Wage Garnishment: The child support agency will work with the noncustodial parent's employer to withhold child support from his paycheck.
  • Tax Refund or Benefit Interception: The child support agency can take any payments the government owes the noncustodial parent and apply it directly to child support. Tax refunds, social security checks, and lottery winnings are all susceptible to interception.
  • Liens and Attachments: Child support enforcement can also "attach" any of the noncustodial parent's property. This means that the government owns part of the property, and the noncustodial parent cannot sell the property without paying the government. Real estate, cars, and bank accounts can all be attached.
  • Passport Denial: As an incentive for the noncustodial parent to pay child support, the government will deny him a passport as long as the child support remains unpaid. This has the added benefit of ensuring he will not leave the country.
  • License Suspension: If the noncustodial parent requires a license to work, child support enforcement can suspend the license until child support is paid.
  • Jail Time: When all else fails, the child support enforcement agency may have the option to send the noncustodial parent to jail. This is a last resort, since many states would rather find some way for the noncustodial parent to pay child support, which cannot happen if he is incarcerated.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on Child Support Enforcement and Paying Child Support.

Get Legal Help Enforcing Child Support Payments

When the court enters a child support order, it's no longer up for negotiation. If you're struggling to get your child's other parent to make timely support payments, you're not alone and there are a number of resources available to you. You can learn more about these resources and even retain a strong advocate by reaching out to a skilled child support attorney near you.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified child support attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution