What are typical remedies when a parent stops paying child support? This is a question that I get asked quite frequently. The most common remedy is a contempt proceeding. A contempt proceeding is initiated by filling a affidavit and a petition for a citation in contempt with the court. In this pleading you set forth why the court should issue a contempt citation. The court will review your paperwork and if the court agrees with you and your arguments, the court will issue a citation for the other party to appear and show cause why he or she should not be held in contempt of court. You must serve your petition and citation and affidavit upon the other party about 21 days prior to the hearing. At that point, the party who is alleged to be in contempt must appear before the judge and explain why he or she is not paying their child support obligation.
The court will then set the matter for an evidentiary hearing and will take evidence regarding why the other party is not paying their child support. There are two types of contempt proceedings. There is a remedial contempt proceeding, which is a favorite of mine because if the party is found in remedial contempt of court, then they may be ordered to pay for the other party’s attorney fees, and also, could be ordered to pay a fine, and may even be placed in jail for failure to comply. The other type of contempt proceeding is a punitive contempt. I use this mechanism much less frequently because in a punitive contempt the other party has the right to assert their fifth amendment privilege against self incrimination. It is more of a criminal burden of proof.
Also, you cannot get your attorney’s fees in a punitive contempt proceeding. The fine that could be assessed by the court would be payable to the state. It’s not really what people want. They really want their attorney’s fees paid for, they want to receive the back-due child support, and, in some instances, they want to see the other person put in jail. That is a remedy that can happen. Other methods that you could use to collect past due child support include, getting the child support enforcement agency in your county involved. That agency has the authority to suspend the non-paying party’s drivers license, to capture tax refunds, to garnish and levy their bank accounts. That’s a mechanism that child support enforcement can use.
The third most common method of collecting back due child support is to obtain a verified entry of support judgment. Keep in mind that past due child support payments accrue interest at twelve percent per month, like a credit card. That can really rack up the bill pretty quickly. What you do is file for a verified entry of support judgment. When the court issues that, then you take that judgment and you can use it to garnish someone’s bank account, garnish their wages if they have a job, and seize other assets that the non-paying party has. It’s a pretty powerful tool for enforcement.