Enforcing and Collecting Child Support

In an ideal world, collecting child support would be a hassle-free process. However, reality tells a different story and child support enforcement is often needed.

By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.

It's a good idea to register with the state child support enforcement agency at the time of your divorce or when you receive your child support order. This makes enforcing child support much easier as there is a record of payments received and how long they have been delinquent for. Many state enforcement agency can also start enforcement proceeding for you.

You can also seek to have your child support order enforced by the court. One of the easiest methods for collecting child support is through a withholding order or wage assignment. When a withholding order is initiated, the child support is taken directly out of the obligated parent's wages. It is then paid to either the custodial parent or the support enforcement agency, which then pays the parent.

Child support is generally paid on a monthly basis and is due on a certain day of the month, as outlined by the child support order. The court order may include a grace period before the missed child support payment would be considered delinquent.

If the state support agency is in charge of collecting child support, they will send out a notice of delinquency to the obligated parent requesting payment. Generally this doesn't' happen until the payment is at least 15 days late. If payment is not received within the amount of time listed in the delinquency notice, further action can be taken in collecting the back child support.

Below are answers some of the most common questions about about late child support payments and enforcing child support orders.

Is there a way to ensure he pays support every month?

Lupita's Question: I have had to file three show-cause motions because my ex doesn't pay support. What can I do to make him pay up on time and avoid this torture every month?

Brette's Answer: Failure to comply is a violation of a court order. You go back to court and ask the judge to enforce the order. You should ask that child support be paid through your state enforcement agency - if there is a problem with payment, they handle that, which will save you this entire headache.

What if he never started paying support like ordered?

Levetta's Question: It has been a year since I got divorced. Child support was supposed to start 2 months after the divorce, but I haven't received anything. I don't know who to contact about this. What should I do to get the payments started?

Brette's Answer: It depends on how the payments were to be made. If they were going to come directly from him to you, then you need to go back to the court that created the original order and file the papers for a violation or to enforce the order. If the support was to be sent to your state agency for child support collection and the agency was to pay you, you'll need to get in touch with the agency.

What are my options if my ex stops paying support?

Tami's Question: My ex started his own business over a year ago, and has since stopped paying child support on a regular basis. What are my options for collecting child support that wasn't paid as well as insuring it gets paid in the future?

Brette's Answer: What you need to do is work on enforcing child support. You can file a petition for a violation in your state court that handles child support. Bring a copy of your child support order with you. You should consider having your state child support office handle collecting child support and future enforcement.

Can he reduce the amount of child support without a court order?

Renee's Question: My ex-husband has lowered his child support payment on his own without a court order? What are my rights?

Brette's Answer: He can't do that. File a petition for a violation with the court. You might also consider asking to have support collected by your state agency so you don't have to deal with it.

Will he get in trouble for not paying child support if I don't enforce it?

Emily's Question: If my ex-husband does not pay child support and I do not go to court to enforce it, will he still get in trouble or can we work it out between ourselves?

Brette's Answer: You can always withdraw your complaint. However if the state child support agency is involved it is another story.

Will the state help in collecting child support?

Mary Ann's Question: My ex-husband owes me child support. My mother in law has passed away and left him her house. Will the state step in and make him pay the money he owes the children now that he has some resources?

Brette Answers: If the child support payments are being collected through the state enforcement agency, they will handle it. If not, you need to file enforcement proceedings to get started collecting child support.

Can I enforce the child support orders if the state isn't doing it?

Nancy Asks: We've been separated for almost 3 years and he's court ordered to pay child support. He pays what and when he chooses and the State refuse to help in collecting child support. Is there a way I can get this to court myself?

Brette's Answer: File papers for violation or enforcement of child support. You can get the forms from your local family court or on their web site.

Will an informal support agreement be enforced by the court?

Allison's Question: I was divorced in California 4 years ago. When that order was filed it stated that support and visitation would be agreed upon between us. I got him to sign a document stating he would pay a certain amount each month and visitation would be this and that. This document was notarized. He is now behind in payments...will this hold up in court?

Brette's Answer: An agreement made outside of court is not enforceable in court at all. If you wanted child support in an enforceable way, you needed a court order.

How do I pay back the missed child support payments?

Kristen's Question: How do I go about paying my back child support before my court date, that way I won't have to go?

Brette's Answer: You either pay your ex or the state collection agency, depending on who you were ordered to pay.

Do I have to follow the child support withholding order for my employee?

Shane's Question: I am the employer of a non-custodial parent. I just received an order to withhold child support from his paycheck. However, the order says that the money will go to back child support. My HR company says that I will be in contempt if I do not withhold the money. When the money is withheld, won't it just be deposited right back to my non-custodial employee's child support card?

Brette's Answer: If you have an order, you have to follow it. It's not really up to you to get involved with where the money goes or what happens to it. Discuss it with your HR department or attorney if you have questions.

Can child support be deducted from the money he gets from school?

Niccole's Question: If the father is returning to school, is there a way that child support can come out the money that he gets from school? Also is there any way of collecting child support if he is getting paid under the table?

Brette's Answer: If he has a job at the school that pays him, then it would be eligible for child support. A scholarship would not be. A job that pays under the table counts towards child support, but you need to get proof he is being paid (witnesses, bank receipts, etc.).

Can his settlement be used to pay the child support?

Kayla's Question: I am getting child support for my 6 year old daughter. We have a court order, but he pays it on an irregular basis and has built up over $7000 in back support. There is an insurance settlement they are supposed to be taking money from. Will it make a difference in the amount of child support? Because I went through the state, am I still able to get the $7000 he owes us?

Brette's Answer: You can request a modification to take into account changes in his income. Depending on state law, an insurance settlement may not be included in that. If the state is collecting child support for you, they should be handling enforcement. Contact your state child support collection agency to ask about the arrears.

Can I take my ex to small claims court to collect the child support?

Barbara's Question: My ex and I have equal joint custody. A little over a year ago, one of my sons came to live with me full time because he was kicked out of his father's house. Even though there was no official change of custody, can I take my ex to small claims court to get the child support he should have paid me for all that time? The Child Support Agency said that they could not enforce support unless I hired a lawyer and had the custody changed.

Brette's Answer: Child support is enforceable only in the court that ordered it. You can't go to small claims for collecting child support. You can go to family court and modify your child support and custody orders to reflect the current situation and ask for retroactive child support for that time.

Can he quit paying child support if he doesn't see the kids?

Heather's Question: In our original court papers, my ex got visitation every Wednesday and every other weekend. He has now moved to another state to be with his girlfriend and has stopped paying the court ordered support. What should I do and how can I go about collecting child support again?

Brette's Answer: As far as the child support goes, he has to pay you that whether he exercises his visitation or not, so I would recommend you talk to an attorney about the arrears and getting him to start paying. Good luck!

Can I stop visitation if he doesn't pay his child support?

Laura's Question: My son is eight years old, and his father has only paid support a total of 6 times in the six years since we split. After I learned that there is an active warrant for his arrest, I stopped visitation. He now claims to be filing contempt of court on me. Am I in the wrong?

Brette's Answer: Visitation and child support are two separate issues. If he isn't paying, file papers with the court for enforcement/violation. You cannot withhold visitation because he hasn't paid. Withholding visitation is custodial interference. If there is an arrest warrant out, you can arrange to have him arrested at the court appearance.

How I do collect child support that was paid to the state years ago?

D's Question: My ex was ordered to pay child support in California for our son. He did pay; however I never received it due to moving to the east coast. He is now deceased. Where do I collect the money? I never knew he paid until his death a couple months ago.

Brette's Answer: You need to check with the California state child support agency.

Do I still owe child support if the other parent dies?

Ruby's Question: I was ordered to pay child support over 10 years ago (my son is now 26) and his father is deceased. Do I have to continue paying support and who does it go to?

Brette's Answer: Regular child support obligations end upon death, however if you are paying back child support that is something that is owed to the estate of the person who passed. You should talk with your attorney to understand what you are obligated to do.