What Collection Remedies are Available

What Efforts Can Be Taken to Collect Child Support From the Parent Who Does Not Pay?

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 owing 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 ("claim an exemption"), 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.

What is the Parent Locator Service?

The Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) obtains and transmits information about the location of any absent parent when that information is to be used for the purpose of enforcing child support. The service is an arm of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The FPLS also can be used in connection with the enforcement or determination of child custody, visitation, and parental kidnapping. There are also state parent locator services in some states.

Recent federal legislation (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996) also expanded the FPLS’s services to include a National Directory of New Hires and a Federal Case Registry of Support Orders. FPLS will match data between the New Hire and Case Registry every two days and report matches to states within two days.

What Other Collection Remedies are Available?

The following are other alternative courses of action:

Government: Many states have empowered local government agencies (such as the Office of District Attorney) to collect child support for an obligee parent. Under law, the local agency may (or must) take action to collect outstanding child support arrearage. Resources, such as parent locator services, and a staff of attorneys/clerks, are available to local agencies to assist in collecting court ordered child support.

Tax refund intercepts: Local agencies have the authority to follow a procedure to "intercept" federal or state tax refunds which otherwise would be paid to the obligor parent. Also, local agencies can provide information about child support arrearage to consumer credit reporting agencies who are then required include such information in the agency's report. Although local child support enforcement agencies can be slow, because of the additional resources available to them, their assistance should be requested as part of the overall effort to collect a child support arrearage.

Real estate liens: A "judgment lien" based on child support arrearage can be recorded against real estate owned by the obligor parent in the county in which the property is located. When such a lien is recorded, the real property becomes security for the payment of the judgment. A judgment lien for child support is then paid from the proceeds of the sale when the property is sold. A judgment lien against real property should be established whenever an obligor parent owns real property that has an equity value (that is, the amount of all outstanding liens, including mortgages, is less than the fair market value of the property).

Civil contempt of court: A more complex proceeding is an action for contempt. Since payment of child support is a direct order by a court to pay, failure to pay is treated as a contempt of a court order. In this proceeding, which is quasi-criminal in nature, the obligee parent must prove to the court that the obligor parent had the income from which support could have been paid. Although a contempt proceeding is complex, it certain to gain the attention of the obligor parent.

Since collection of child support can be difficult, professional assistance is often needed. Child support judgments can easily reach many thousands of dollars a year, and the cost of professional assistance is justified, since those who are familiar with collection procedures often obtain favorable results.

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