How to Enforce a Child Support Order

Child support orders are legally binding. If your child’s other parent is failing to comply with court-ordered child support, you have the option to request that the courts enforce the order. Enforcement can take many forms, including punitive measures and wage garnishment. However, before going to the courts and requesting enforcement, you should consult with a trusted attorney. Your lawyer can help you file a judgment against your child’s other parent, and should it be necessary, can guide you in pursuing more aggressive enforcement options.

Keep reading to learn more about how child support enforcement works in California.

How Child Support Works in California

In California, both parents are legally and equally obligated to support their minor children. This includes financial support. When a child’s parents separate or divorce, one or both parents may request the courts to make a child support order. The child support order will stipulate which parent is required to make monthly child support payments and in what amounts.

Child support orders may also be issued as part of a case filed by your local child support agency (LCSA). Each county has its own LCSA. You can view the Orange County Child Support Services page here.

How Is Child Support Calculated?

Child support in California is determined by a formula that is used state-wide. This formula is used by judges when the parents can’t agree on a child support amount. The laws governing the uniform child support guidelines can be found in California Family Code Sections 4050-4076, including the formulas for determining child support.

According to Section 4065, parents may agree to a child support amount that is different from that determined by the guideline formula, but the courts must approve this agreement for it to be legally valid. The courts cannot approve child support amounts that fall below the guideline formula amount with very few exceptions.

If you and your child’s other parent are working on a child support agreement that falls outside of the guidelines formula’s amount, you should speak with your attorney before submitting it to the court for approval.

What Happens When a Parent Falls Behind or Doesn’t Pay Child Support?

The courts take child support orders very seriously, and there are serious consequences to non-compliance with a child support order. For example, if the courts determine that someone is intentionally not paying child support, despite being able to pay, they may hold that individual in contempt of court. Being held in contempt of court can result in jail time.

Working with Your Local Child Support Agency

Typically, the first step in enforcing child support orders is to work with your local child support agency (LCSA). According to the California Courts, child support cases that come through your LCSA generally already have a wage assignment (also called garnishment) attached to them. This means that child support is taken directly out of the person ordered to pay’s paycheck. If a wage assignment is in place, but the child’s other parent still falls behind on child support payments, the LCSA can take several enforcement measures.

Common child support enforcement methods include:

  • Wage withholding
  • Liens on real and personal property
  • Intercepting tax refunds (state and federal)
  • Passport denial
  • Credit card suspension
  • Business, professional, and driver license suspensions

However, if the LCSA is not involved, or the couple has worked with the LCSA to have the wage assignment stayed so that the person ordered to pay can submit payments another way, this wage assignment may not be in place. You will then have to request a wage assignment or work with the LCSA to pursue other enforcement options.

Requesting a Child Support Modification

In some cases, a parent falls behind in child support because their circumstances have changed, and they are incapable of making the payments. In cases like these, it may be best to seek a child support modification from the courts instead of enforcement. Modifications are typically granted when a parent’s (or the child’s) circumstances have changed in a significant and lasting way, and those changes render the original child support order insufficient.

Reasons for seeking a child support modification can include:

  • The loss of a job or a change in income
  • A change in health or medical needs, including disability
  • Retirement
  • Relocation

No matter your situation, if you or your child’s other parent fails to make child support payments, you should reach out to an experienced attorney right away to discuss your options. At Burch Shepard Family Law Group, we have helped countless clients deal with child support issues, and we can help with child support enforcement and child support modifications. Contact our law firm to discuss your case.