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Enforcing Child Support

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By StraightDivorce Staff on 3/30/2008

No matter what the circumstances, and regardless of financial conditions, the two people who parent children have a legal responsibility to support the children. And every child has a legal right to receive financial support, even when parents divorce. If together parents cannot determine a fair amount of child support, a court will determine the proper amount. Once a court has ordered child support payments, the parent who has been ordered to pay, must make child support payments regularly. Yet, even though court orders are in place, many custodial parents struggle to get payment from the non-custodial parent who has been ordered to pay child support. In fact, a recent study has found that less than half the parents awarded child support receive payment in full. Some research has shown that billions of dollars are owed in child support all of which goes unpaid. Under the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984, the district attorney or state’s attorneys of every state must help a custodial parent collect child support that is supposed to be paid by the non-custodial parent. In 1992, Congress passed the Child Support Recovery Act (CSRA), which makes it a federal crime for a parent to intentionally refuse to make child support payments to a parent who lives in another state.

How Child Support Is Enforced

If the parents can’t decide on child support payments, the courts will determine how much the non-custodial parent must pay towards child support payments. And because a number of non-custodial parents don’t make their child support payments, the courts have to enforce a court order against any parent who either refuses to make the child support payment or who has trouble making the payments due to circumstances beyond their control. In support of child support laws, every state has established a child support enforcement agency that can assist in collecting child support from a non-paying parent. The custodial parent has many options available that can help them enforce child support orders, and they should be considered if payments are not being made. For anyone who has a court order for child support, if the payment is not being received, enforcement services are available and a child support agency will assign a child support worker to help with the case. The objective of the child support worker is to enforce the child support payment by doing everything possible to locate the parent who is not making child support payments to assure that the support is paid.

Actions Taken On a Non-Paying Non-Custodial Parent

If or when a non-custodial parent does not pay the court ordered child support, a child support worker will use enforcement actions to influence the non-custodial parent to pay their share of child support. Some of the enforcement actions include judgment entry, interest charging, criminal nonsupport court action, financial institution data matching, collection action, wage garnishments, contempt of court, the seizure of the non-paying parent’s property, interception of tax refunds, and suspension of the driver’s license. If a person willfully disobeys the child support order, they can be jailed for contempt of court. A civil contempt action is brought on the custodial parent after which the nonpaying parent will be served and must appear at a hearing to present a defense. If the nonpaying parent does not appear in court for the process, the trial court will order a bench warrant for his or her arrest. Once in court, if it’s found beyond a reasonable doubt that the parent has willfully failed to pay child support, the non-paying parent can be jailed for non-payment. If the parent can show that they do not have the means to pay the child support, they will not be found in contempt of court, but they will continue to owe the money. Generally, the threat of jail nudges the non-paying parent into making payments.

Child Support Not Set in Stone

Child Support payments are not set in stone and are therefore subject to change if or when conditions warrant a change. That means that either parent may petition the court to raise or lower child support if the conditions warrant a change. In addition, payments automatically terminate when the child or children reach majority or become emancipated. Emancipation is subject to opinion and often requires a court determination.

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