What Can I Do If a Parent Is Not Paying Child Support?

Has your former partner stopped paying their court-ordered child support? Sadly, it’s a widespread occurrence —  a 2018 Census report showed that less than half of custodial parents received their full child support benefits. Many parents face this very situation and feel an increased pressure to meet the expenses that come with raising their child.

Adding to this already overwhelming problem are the complications involved in tracking down and communicating with your former partner. Did they leave the state and cut off communication? If you can find them, are they combative and unwilling to pay? Though this can put you in a lonely and challenging position, you aren’t alone. Thankfully, there are other ways to remedy the situation.

In California, custodial parents can file a complaint in court against the non-custodial parent for not paying child support (or not making payments in total). From there, the weight of resolving the problem is off your shoulders. The legal system will begin the process of notifying your former partner and getting the payments for you.

At Azemika Law, we are deeply involved with California divorce law and work with clients struggling to get the child support payments they’re entitled to. We wrote this guide to illustrate how California parents can get late, missing, or incomplete child support payments. Read on to discover your options.

Reporting Non-Payment

If your ex-partner has stopped sending payments in part or in full, the first step to remedy the situation is to bring a copy of your order to a child support agency. One of our Kern County family law attorneys can help you through the process of proving your ex-partner did not pay child support. The agency will then begin the work of collecting the missing money.

As a state department, the child support agency has many resources to locate a non-paying partner and get your child support payments. The first step is to send the non-paying parent notifications and a time frame in which to respond. Should they fail to respond, the agency may move on to any other methods listed below.

Suspension of Drivers Licence

The child support agency will contact the department of motor vehicles and notify them of the issue. In compliance with state law, the DMV will refuse to renew the non-paying parent’s driver’s license until they pay their debt. They may instead suspend or revoke the license. Depending on the severity of the situation, the DMV may choose to issue them a temporary license while your ex-partner makes back payments.

Suspension of Professional Licenses

By suspending professional or occupational licenses, the state prevents the non-custodial parent from working in specialized occupations. Often, this happens in concurrence with driver’s license suspension or immediately afterward. The lack of professional licensing prevents them from legally holding well-paying jobs in related fields and serves as the first financial punishment against them.

Credit Reporting

An often overlooked fact following divorce is that not meeting the child and spousal support obligations can hurt one’s credit score. Ideally, this adds additional pressure on your ex-partner to make payments. Unfortunately, if their credit score is already low, they may not care or even notice. However, the efforts don’t end there.

Collect Wages and Other Money

If your ex-partner collects disability, workers compensation, or a tax refund, the state of California can collect it instead and use it to pay missing child support as well as use it towards future payments. Sometimes, this occurs alongside wage garnishment. 

Passport Suspension

If your ex-partner owes $2,500 or more in unpaid child support, they risk losing their passport until they meet their financial obligations. If they don’t have a passport, this will prevent them from getting one.

Filing A Motion of Contempt

If payments don’t resume after filing your complaint, it can become a criminal matter. At this point, you can file a motion of contempt with the court to hold the other parent liable to more severe penalties. Our firm can assist you through this process. However, keep in mind that there is a three-year statute of limitations on child support in California, so there comes a point where it is too late to collect on past payments.

California advises parents not to file a motion of contempt before using other methods because it carries both civil and criminal penalties. In some circumstances, a parent found guilty could even serve jail time.

Once you file the motion of contempt, a judge will hold a hearing to determine if the non-payments were intentional. That’s where the contempt itself lies: because child support, alimony, and other forms of spousal support are court-ordered, disregarding them is contempt of court. If found guilty, the court can enact any of the following punishments.

  • Wage garnishment or direct garnishment of their bank accounts
  • Order payments from benefit sources (pension, disability), gambling winnings, community property
  • Order the sale of their property to make back payments
  • Community service for at least 120 hours but increasing with each case of contempt
  • Payment of your legal fees going back to your first attempt to collect back payments
  • Rarely, a judge may order a fine for each case of contempt, but that is becoming less frequent
  • Jail time

These are only some of the penalties a California court can impose. However, there are potential federal punishments based on how much money they owe and if they deliberately attempted to avoid making them. Federal cases carry the most severe penalties, but state-level courts cannot impose them.

What If There’s a Reason for Non-Payment?

Your ex-partner may not be in the financial position to make payments. They may have even communicated this to you. However, simply stating this, even if they can demonstrate it to you, isn’t enough to remove their child support responsibilities. 

A California child support agency allows parents to modify a child support order for many reasons, including financial hardship. So your ex-spouse will need to go through the process as soon as they realize they can’t meet their responsibilities. Should things go to court, hardship can’t be used as a defense if they didn’t try to modify the agreement on those grounds, even if they can demonstrate that they did not have the money. 

Azemika Law Can Help

If you need help understanding the complexities of California divorce laws or would like an experienced attorney to help you work through divorce as efficiently as possible, call on our attorneys at Azemika & Azemika
We are experts in Kern County family law who bring compassion and honesty to everything that we do. We’ll treat you and your family with respect and confidentiality as we help you achieve the best outcome possible. Contact us today to learn more about our expertise and what we can do to help you.

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