Just because a noncustodial parent has been ordered by the court to pay child support doesn't necessarily mean they will adhere to the court order. According to several studies, fewer than 50 percent of the children who are owed child support money regularly receive full payments.
In some cases, the custodial parent must take further action in order to enforce the order. If a noncustodial parent fails to pay court-ordered child support, the custodial parent can rely on federal and state laws which mandate severe enforcement procedures.
The Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 provides district attorneys to help custodial parents collect child support from the noncustodial parent who refuses to pay in accordance with a court order. Generally, the DA serves the other parent with papers, which contain instructions to meet with the DA to set up a payment arrangement. The papers also state several consequences if a noncustodial parent fails to follow these instructions. On the other hand, the custodial parent may ask an attorney or their local Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) for help.
The following are the penalties for failure to pay child support:
- Garnishment of wages - The custodial parent can request an income withholding order or wage assignment. This means that the state will contact your employer directly and have them take payments right out of a noncustodial parent's paycheck.
- Withholding federal tax refunds - The state can intercept a large tax refund to cover late or missing child support payments.
- License suspensions and revocations - States can ask if you pay child support when you get or renew your driver's license. Additionally, local child support agencies regularly communicate with the DMV when a parent falls behind on child support payments. If a noncustodial parent is behind on child support payments, then his or her driver's license and/or professional license(s) can be revoked.
- Passport restrictions - A parent who fails to pay child support may be prevented from renewing his or her passport and being unable to leave the country for work or leisure.
- Contempt of court - This is a legal order that may result in a fine or jail time for the noncustodial parent. The custodial parent, or his or her lawyer, must go to court to obtain this order from a judge.
- Jail time - Typically, the last resort for failure to pay child support is imprisonment. The length of time spent in jail varies by jurisdiction. This is not used very often, since the court recognizes the main objective is to provide support for the children; the noncustodial parent cannot pay child support if he or she is in jail and not working.
Since courts are quite strict about the enforcement of child support, they can order the noncustodial parent to pay the past due amount. When a noncustodial parent falls behind on payments, the overdue amount is known as an "arrearage" and he or she is said to be "in arrears." However, if a noncustodial parent finds him or herself in arrears, he or she can always ask a judge for a reduction of child support payments, but only future payments can be reduced. The noncustodial parent is still obligated to pay the arrearages in full, at no reduced amount, and the court will enforce such payments.
On the other hand, if a noncustodial parent experiences a significant change in income, such as getting fired or being laid off, he or she may file a formal motion requesting modification of child support, reflecting his or her current financial situation.