The court has several ways in which it may enforce a child support order. It may become necessary to enforce an existing child support order if the payor is either not paying his or her obligation or if the payor is only making partial payments.
If you receive support directly from the payor, you will have to file an application with the court to alert the court that the payor is not complying with the existing order. A court will not know if a payor is making timely payments or not unless it is alerted to the fact by you. The exception to this rule is if the payor pays his support through the Child Support Probation Department, which is an enforcement arm of the courts. When a payor pays through the Probation Department, the department will keep track of what payments are made and when. If a payor falls behind, a probation officer may take steps on your behalf to enforce the existing support orders. However, this article is geared towards those individuals receiving support directly, which is the most common method of payment.
Once an application is made to enforce a child support order and the payor is in fact determined by the court to be in arrears, the court has several measures at its disposal to collect the arrears from the payor. Among those measures are:
- Fixing the amount of arrearages and entering a judgment
In many cases, the court will calculate the total amount of arrears and enter a judgment in favor of the party receiving support. The party receiving support may then take the judgment and attach it to an asset owned by the payor, such as a residence or bank account. A court will typically also apply an appropriate interest rate to the judgment amount so that interest can accrue in case the judgment cannot be collected immediately. It may be necessary in the future for the party receiving support to go back to court and have the judgment amended if the payor continues to not pay support.
- Requiring payment of arrearages on a periodic basis
In the overwhelming majority of cases, the court will force the payor to pay a separate amount in addition to the existing child support order so that additional amount can be applied specifically to the existing arrears. This is often referred to as an “arrears component” as the purpose of the separate amount is to decrease the arrears amount. For instance, if a payor is in arrears of $1,000, a court may order the payor to pay an additional $100 per week so that his/her arrears are erased within ten weeks.
- Suspension of an occupational license or driver’s license
The court may suspend a payor’s driver’s license if he or she continually fails to pay child support. If a payor’s license is suspended, the payor is responsible for paying any fees required to reactivate his/her license. A professional or occupational license (e.g., a license to practice law) can be suspended by the court as well.
- Economic sanctions
This category gives the court the authority to assess economic sanctions or monetary fines upon payors who fail to pay child support.
- Participation in an approved community service program
It is unusual for a court to compel a payor to participate in a community service program. However, the court has utilized it as a remedy in circumstances wherein the payor is unemployed and does not have the means to pay his or her arrears at the time. The participation in the program will not allow the payor to “work off” his arrears; the arrears will continue to exist despite the payor’s participation in the program.
Incarceration is a common remedy used by the court if a payor continually refuses to pay support. The term of incarceration is determined by the court but generally does not last more than two or three days at a time. The court will usually release a payor if he or she pays an amount specified by the court, which is typically a percentage of the total arrears.
- Issuance of a warrant to be executed upon further violation of the order
A warrant is another one of the more common remedies to enforce a child support order. In order to motivate a payor to continue to pay support on a timely basis, the court will order that a warrant will issue if the payor misses a certain amount of future payments. Typically, the court will order that a “two week warrant status” be included in an enforcement order. A “two week warrant status” means that if a payor misses two consecutive weekly payments, a warrant will be issued for the payors arrest. If a payor is paying through the Probation Department, the court will automatically issue a warrant if a payor misses two consecutive payments.
- Any other appropriate equitable remedy
This category is a broad “catch-all” that permits the court to fashion whatever remedy it thinks it is appropriate for the situation. Each case that comes before the court has a different fact pattern and this category gives the court the freedom to create a remedy appropriate for each particular case.
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