If your former partner has stopped paying child support, talk to them about their situation. If they’ve recently lost a job or experience financial difficulty, you can have the child custody order modified, allowing them to make payments. If that’s not possible, you have several legal options, from placing a lien on their property to seeking legal action. Your next steps depend on how long your ex has failed to make payments and how much they owe you. Keep in mind that child support enforcement and requirements can vary by location. A family law attorney from your state can analyze your case and explain your options.
If It Is Safe to Do so, Talk to Your Ex About Missing Child Support
Life’s circumstances can change. A child support order that once made sense could no longer benefit either party. The state likely took into consideration your income, your spouse’s income, and your child’s needs when creating an arrangement. Still, it’s possible your ex has experienced a life change that prevents them from making child support payments. For instance, they may have lost their job or experienced a medical issue. If you are on speaking terms with your ex, you can get a better idea of why they’re missing payments. From there, you can strategize a new plan together.
You and Your Ex Could Create a Payment Plan
If the missed payments were a temporary issue, you and your ex can set up a payment plan to cover the child support payments they missed, as well as get them back on track with future payments. Naturally, this is contingent on being able to negotiate with your ex, as well as your ex being financially able to pay. If you aren’t sure about how to set up a payment plan, a family law attorney can help you. A representative can act as the intermediary between you and your ex, all while crafting a practical plan to provide for your child.
You and Your Ex Could Request Child Support Modification
In some cases, you may need to officially modify your child support agreement. Here, your ex must supply evidence that they can no longer adhere to the agreement. For instance, losing their job and a large portion of their income could warrant a new child support plan. Evidence to support a child support modification case could include banking and financial information, employment records, or even medical records illustrating health problems. Modifying a child support agreement is also sometimes necessary if your child faces their own medical issues. Their costs may have put a strain on your ex’s finances. In these situations, you and your ex can discuss ways to pay for your child’s medical care and revise the child support orders. Child support modification orders are also dictated by state law, so you must follow the steps required by the state in which the original child support order originated. A family law attorney can provide helpful information regarding these cases, especially if you and your partner can’t agree on certain terms.
Other Options if Your Ex Doesn’t Pay Child Support
Since child support plans are court-ordered, you can go to your state’s child support office to ask for an enforcement order. In some cases, this is enough to motivate your ex to get back on track with payments. Your ex is also accountable for past payments they missed; they don’t get to restart at zero. The legal system thrives on documentation, so when you go to the child support office, bring as much information as possible to help identify your ex-partner and highlight their obligation. For instance, the Office of Child Support Enforcement with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services suggests you bring:
- Your ex’s identifying information, like their name, address, Social Security number, photos, or employment details
- A copy of your divorce agreement, child support order, or other documentation proving you need child support
- Banking records showing you received child support in the past (such as deposits, money orders, monthly statements, or canceled checks)
- Your ex’s financial information, such as tax returns, bank accounts, or properties and assets
- People who could help track down your former partner, such as friends, family members, clubs, or organizations
Your attorney can help you compile this information. The office can then help you enforce the child support order. If necessary, you can take the additional step of filing a motion to hold your ex in contempt of court. This is more serious than an enforcement order. Keep in mind that some states have statutes of limitations on these types of motions, so check with your lawyer about the deadline in your area. Motions and orders are not the only paths available during this stressful time. You have other legal options to obtain funds or motivate your ex to start paying, with some listed below.
Place a Lien on Their Property or Assets
A lien essentially presses pause on your ex’s ability to sell property or assets until they have paid their missed child support payments. For example, if you know your ex owns a house, you can place a lien that prevents them from selling the home until you get paid. You can place a lien on:
- Real estate
- Bank accounts
- Retirement plans
- Insurance policies
- Lump sum payments
- Personal property
The child support office can typically help you locate property for this purpose using the financial institution data match system. Child support programs have agreements with financial institutions specifically for the purpose of tracking down people who fail to pay child support. These institutions include banks, credit unions, and insurance companies, among others. The information these sources provide can help you place a lien on your ex’s property or assets. In some cases, if your ex still does not pay child support, you can seize their assets. Your lawyer and the child support office can determine what options you have.
Get an Order for Income Withholding
Rather than chasing down your ex, you can get an order to have income taken directly from their employer to pay child support. This essentially bypasses your ex entirely. This requires a court order but is a common way to obtain missed child support payments. In fact, the Office of Child Support Enforcement points out that income withholding is often the default method for child support payment unless otherwise stated. As a result, this is a very effective way to receive funds if your ex doesn’t pay their child support.
Suspend, Deny, or Revoke a License or Passport
Rather than going after income or assets, you could just make life more complicated for your ex-partner and compel them to pay. Some states can revoke your spouse’s driver’s license or sporting licenses. Federal law also allows missed child support payments to affect a person’s ability to receive a passport. The U.S. Department of State oversees the Passport Denial Program. If your ex’s debt exceeds $2,500, the Office of Child Support Enforcement will automatically forward them to this program. Then, when your ex applies for a passport, their request is automatically denied due to their debt.
Federal Laws and Consequences for Child Support Cases
The Passport Denial Program isn’t the only federal consequence for non-payment of child support. Federal laws address egregious cases of non-payment. Authorities can charge violators with misdemeanors or felonies based on how much time has passed and how much they owe. In all cases, your ex is still responsible for paying you back, on top of facing criminal consequences.
If More Than a Year Has Passed, or They Owe Over $5,000
This can result in punishments ranging from a fine to six months in prison. Violators of this law are charged with a criminal misdemeanor.
If More Than Two Years Have Passed, or They Owe Over $10,000
This naturally can result in more severe punishments than the circumstance listed above. Instead of a misdemeanor, perpetrators can face a felony, fines, and even jail time.
If They Leave the State or Country to Avoid Paying
If your ex decides to cross state lines or even leave the United States to avoid paying child support, they could face up to two years in prison. This applies if they have failed to pay for a year or owe more than $5,000.
Go Through the Steps With Your State Before Taking Federal Action
Obviously, federal prosecution is a very serious step to take. As a result, this typically only applies in particularly serious cases. The U.S. Department of Justice even stresses that child support issues should first be addressed at a lower level before federal charges are considered. That means the federal government wants you to exhaust all possible options before initiating a case on this level. A family law attorney can explain what steps you can take to hold your ex accountable for missed child support payments. They can also guide you through the process of acting on a federal level.
Remember That Visitation and Child Support Are Separate Issues
If your ex fails to provide for your child, you may feel tempted to retaliate in some way. While understandable, fight this instinct, especially when it comes to visitation rights. Although visitation may seem like a connected issue to child support, it is not viewed that way by the law. Visitation agreements and child support agreements are completely independent of each other. If you decide to cut off your ex’s access to your child because they cut off funds, you both violate legal orders. Moreover, violating a visitation order carries its own consequences. Depending on the state, you could wind up facing hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines, as well as prison time. As frustrating as it is not to receive payment, don’t risk creating legal troubles by restricting visitation in revenge.
You Can Enlist the Help of a Lawyer for Child Support Non-Payment
Having options is great, but if you feel overwhelmed, you can consult a child support attorney. These lawyers are well-versed in the state and local laws that apply to child support cases. They can also provide insights into your unique situation. If you used a divorce attorney to hammer out your original child support agreement, you can enlist their help again, as they are already familiar with your case. You can also seek out a new lawyer who has experience in delinquent child support payment cases. Child support attorneys can help with:
- Tracking down your ex or providing identifying information to help the child support office find them
- Compiling evidence of your former partner’s failure to pay you
- Investigating your ex’s claims of financial hardship
- Negotiating with your ex to modify the child support agreement or create a payment plan
- Filing any paperwork, including motions to enforce child support orders and ones to hold your ex in contempt
- Paying attention to deadlines and dates to maintain efficiency in your case
- Connecting you with supportive resources
- Representing you in all court appearances and communicating with judges
- Handling communications with the child support office in your state
- Advising you on when to take certain steps or try new tactics
- Providing information on how to stay afloat financially while waiting for child support payments
Many attorneys offer no-obligation evaluations, so you can get answers to your questions without any pressure.
Your Ex Must Pay Child Support
If your ex isn’t paying child support, they violate a legal agreement, and you can hold them accountable. While sometimes a frustrating process, following the legal options for recovering child support payments protects you and your child. From liens and income withholding to fines and even criminal charges, you have options.