How Does a Child Support Order Get Enforced?

The principle behind laws regarding child support in California is very simple. The parents of children born in the course of a marriage (or conceived out of wedlock) are legally responsible for the financial support of their offspring, regardless of whether or not those parents are living with their child(ren).

Typically, an order for child support is issued by the Court by agreement of the parties or after a Court hearing, where the judge has determined that one party is entitled to receive assistance from the other party in financial support for their child. These child support orders can arise in proceedings for divorce, dissolution of domestic partnership, paternity, or one partner’s petition for the establishment of custody of the child.

Whatever the circumstances, once a child support order has been issued, the supporting parent is legally obliged to obey that order. Failure to do so can be deemed by the Court as willful non-compliance, which can lead to contempt proceedings and, if the supporting parent is found guilty, may be punishable by time in jail.

Enforcement options

Of course, when it comes to enforcing a child support order, things don’t always go smoothly. Once the custodial parent has a court order, she (for purposes of this discussion) has different options for ensuring that order gets enforced. She can hire an attorney to enforce the order or a private child support collection agency to service that debt. The collection agency works much the same as similar agencies charged with collecting credit card or other types of debts. They can garnish that person’s wages, put a lien on property, etc. But they almost always charge a fee for their services.

Another option for enforcing a child support order is using the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). Utilizing DCSS has advantages and drawbacks. First off, its services are free. Also, DCSS is connected to multiple state government agencies, such as the Employment Development Department and the Department of Motor Vehicles—meaning they have access to records that can be very useful in collection activities against a non-paying supporting parent. DCSS can also:

  • File a petition to establish and/or enforce a child support order
  • Report the failure to provide child support to credit agencies, increasing the difficulty for the supporting parent to get a loan
  • Put a hold on that parent’s bank account
  • Attach a lien on that parent’s property or vehicle
  • Ask an employer to garnish wages
  • Confiscate IRS tax refunds
  • Suspend a driver’s, professional and/or recreational license
  • Assist the Court in issuing an arrest warrant

The chief disadvantage in relying on DCSS to enforce a child support order is that, like all government agencies, it’s overworked and understaffed. With recent cutbacks in government spending, DCSS has downsized its personnel and struggled to keep pace with state-of-the-art computer technology. Going through DCSS, therefore, requires a lot of patience, since results may be a long time coming.

A lot depends on the specific nature of the child support order. A family law firm like mine does have a great deal of enforcement tools at our disposal, such as processing and serving a wage garnishment order on the supporting parent’s employer, in order to enforce the child support order. If you feel you need assistance in the enforcement of your child support order, I would suggest you contact an attorney to explore your options.

Are you in need of legal counseling or have any questions about the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law/divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning to criminal/DUI matters and landlord/tenant disputes.