Child support payments may either be ordered by the court in a divorce decree or legal separation agreement or mutually agreed upon by the parties. Several laws exist which are designed to make child support orders readily enforceable across the United States. However, despite such efforts, “dead-beat dads,” or parents who consistently fail to make support payments in full or at all, continue their delinquencies. As a result, there are further measures available for the collection of child support payments.
Child Support Enforcement Agencies
Child support orders that have been issued in one state must be recognized and enforced in all 50 states. All states are required to have child support enforcement agencies (CSEAs), which are charged with the enforcement and collection of child support payments. However, individuals may also choose to enforce a court order without the assistance of their CSEA by hiring a private attorney.
Methods Available to Collect Past Due Child Support Payments
Generally, there are a variety of techniques available to state and federal governments in order to collect arrearages of child support payments. Some methods which may be used to pursue the offender may include:
Court orders to withhold and/or garnish their wages or other employment benefits
Interception of their tax refunds
Placing liens on their property
Holding them in contempt of court
Hiring a collection agency to pursue them
Revoking their driver’s or professional licenses
Pursuing interstate collections authorized by federal statute
By 1994, deducting the wages of the non-custodial parent (i.e., the parent without “physical” custody) of a child support order became automatic. In addition, employers in all states may receive an order authorizing garnishment of wages for past due child support payments. Although this process may increase an employer’s costs, employers are prohibited from discriminating against their employees based on automatic child support withholding. Thus, this method is an effective way of collecting overdue child support provided that the paying parent does not change jobs frequently or otherwise lose their job.
Interception of Tax Refunds
State and federal governments are also entitled to intercept tax refunds to collect support payments in arrears. This is only a useful method if the debtor parent is expecting a sizeable refund and also only applies once per year. In addition, if the non-custodial parent has remarried, only their portion of the tax refund may be reached. The new spouse is entitled to retain their full refund amount.
Liens on Property
In order to collect child support payments from a defaulting non-custodial parent, states may place a lien on the individual’s property, including real estate and automobiles. A “lien” is a claim that is placed on the property which prevents it from being sold or transferred until a debt (e.g., child support payment) has been satisfied. If the child support continues to go unpaid, the property may be “foreclosed,” or sold to pay the debt from the sale proceeds.
Contempt of Court
A parent who fails to make child support payments may be held in “contempt of court.” A non-custodial parent who disobeys a court order to make child support payments may be brought to court for contempt either by the custodial parent or the state. A party that is found guilty of contempt of court is potentially subject to fines and/or time in jail.
In some instances, it may be appropriate to hire a collection agency to pursue the delinquent child support payor. Some collection agencies might be willing to handle a child support collection just as any other debt using their typical collection tactics. These agencies usually require a portion of the amount collected as a “contingency fee” for their services.
Another method of enforcing payment of child support is to make the debtor’s acquisition or renewal of a license contingent upon paying the support owed. This may apply to driver’s licenses, professional licenses, etc. A license holder that defaults or fails to make the agreed upon payments may have their license revoked. Although these processes may not be available in all states, they offer the advantage of being quick and effective due to their administrative nature.
Interstate Enforcement and Collection
In order to facilitate the enforcement and collection of child support payments across the country, the proposed Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) was approved by the American Bar Association in 1993. Since then, all 50 states have adopted UIFSA which helps ensure that when a child lives in one state and the parent ordered to pay support lives in another, support orders and enforcement and collection arrangements will be recognized in both states.
However, a lack of perfect cohesion in the laws of the states still permitted some noncustodial parents to escape one state’s jurisdiction by relocating to another state. In response, Congress enacted the Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act of 1994 (FFCCSOA). The federal FFCCSOA was drafted to be consistent with the state enacted UIFSA and was designed to promote consistent enforcement of child support orders, discourage interstate controversies and avoid competition and conflict among the states.