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How can I get child support payments from a parent who is not paying?

UPDATED: July 31, 2017

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There are tools available to collect, but they require the parent seeking payment to get various court orders to enforce the child support obligations. The most common mechanism is a wage assignment or garnishment—an order that the delinquent parent’s employer send part of his or her paycheck to the other parent. This, of course, does not work well on parents who are self-employed or have sporadic or irregular income, such as commissions based on sales. Another option is what is called attachment or levy: a court order that a court officer take money from a bank account, or seize and sell a vehicle or other property/asset. Attachment or levy requires that the parent have assets that the law can reach. If he or she rents an apartment, leases a vehicle, and doesn’t have much (if anything) in the bank, there is little that can be taken for support. While there are other options, too (e.g. contempt of court) all have limitations—working it out voluntarily, when possible, is the best option.

When a parent fails to provide support for a child, the parents need to work together to make arrangements for mutual sharing of the expense of raising the child. For all parties concerned, the best solution is often found when parents work together.

In the situation where one parent does not cooperate in sharing the responsibility for child support, the controversy should be submitted to a court. The first step is to obtain an order for the payment of child support. Further action in the court for the purpose of collecting child support can be taken if the obligor parent fails to comply with the court order for payment of child support. Like other enforcement of judgment actions, the available remedies range from simple to complex proceedings.

Wage assignments

The most common tool used to collect child support payments that are not voluntarily made is through a wage assignment order. A wage assignment order is an order of the court directing the employer to deduct the child support payment from the earnings of an employee-obligor parent and then make this payment directly to the obligee parent. Violation of a wage assignment order could result in the employer becoming responsible for such payment to the obligee parent. assignment orders can be obtained through a relatively simple court procedure. Once obtained, the wage assignment order must be served upon the employer of the obligor parent before it becomes effective.

Enforcement action

When the obligor parent continually fails to make support payments, the total amount of the arrearage (payments due and owed but not yet paid) can be set as a judgment for further enforcement proceedings. Interest on the arrearage is often included as part of the judgment, since many states provide for interest to accrue on outstanding orders for support. The expense of an enforcement action to collect a judgment is justified as the amount due increases. When the obligor parent has income or property, there is financial incentive to pursue enforcement efforts and, with the assistance of professionals, well worth the effort and expense.

Attachment or levy

Child support can also be collected through other procedures. For example, if the obligor has money in a bank, a valuable automobile, an investment in a mutual fund, or an interest in a property in the possession of a third-party, an attachment or levy can be executed. When executing a levy or attachment, care must be taken since some property is exempt. In a levy or attachment proceeding, the court can have the property of the obligor parent seized or taken away and given to the obligee parent. Although an obligor parent may challenge the levy or attachment in court by claiming an exception, it can be very effective in obtaining payment of a child support judgment. Strict adherence to the established rules for levy and attachment is required to protect an obligee parent from an allegation theft of property.

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