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Collecting Past Due Child Support

If you practice family law, you will need to be familiar with how to collect past due child support in your jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the nonpayment of support is a very common problem. It is amazing at how skillful some payors can be at avoiding their child support obligations.
Most child support orders now have a wage garnishment clause to require employers to withhold child support payments. This has dramatically cut down on the need to collect past due support. However, if the payor becomes unemployed, changes jobs, or works for cash, a wage garnishment clause is not going to helpful. Payors who wish to avoid their obligations learn the tricks pretty quickly, and it can be a full-time job just to keep up with garnishment of their wages. If you are able to determine the employer, you can get a new child support order to garnish both the current and past due child support payments.
There are other, less effective options besides wage garnishment. You can obtain a lien on property owned by the payor, but you won’t collect unless the property is sold. Also, under the Federal Tax Offset Program, the Federal government will attach the payor’s federal income tax refund, lottery winnings, unemployment funds, and/or workers’ compensation payments if child support payments are at least three months behind. Further, your state can revoke the payor’s licenses under the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. “Licenses” include driver’s licenses, passports, and professional and recreational licenses. Additionally, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act can be used to criminally prosecute a payor for evasion or long-term nonpayment of child support. Finally, you can seek a contempt order for violation of a child support order and possibly obtain interest on any amount overdue.
Despite all of the options available to help with the collection of past due support, many payors still manage to evade payment. Even if you cannot collect support now, encourage your client to keep trying. The statutes of limitations vary greatly, but a payee can often collect past due child support even after the child becomes an adult.
If a potential client seeks your advice on collection, you may first want to recommend that the person contact the child support enforcement agency where the support order originated. There are attorneys at these agencies who do collections every day. Generally, the client will simply need to fill out a form to start the process, and it may be free. Collection does not always yield immediate results, and it can be quite costly to keep filing motions for contempt and/or requests for liens. If you can work out a way to help your client, such as obtaining the local child support agency forms and assisting the client with completing and submitting them, this could be a good service to increase client retention and satisfaction. However, the agencies are better prepared to obtain the necessary wage garnishment orders and federal tax withholding.
Past due child support collection is a very difficult issue to handle. It is important to inform the client of the likelihood of not getting the desired results, especially if the payor frequently switches jobs, does not own any property, and files taxes with a balance due rather than a refund. The payee can usually collect eventually, but it requires a great deal of patience.
Additional Resources: - information on the Federal Tax Offset Program - Federal assistance and the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act