When couples divorce and children are involved, one parent will often end up paying child support to the other, who is generally the parent with custodial rights of the couple’s child or children.
Sometimes, the custodial parent will experience a lapse, stoppage, or shortfall in the periodic support payment that’s been agreed upon. What steps can that parent take to get the payments resumed and missed previous payments brought current?
California law does provide a legal remedy by filing a motion for contempt in court.
If you find yourself in this situation — payments have been missed or stopped altogether — and you’re in or around Los Angeles, California, including the counties of Orange, San Bernardino, and Ventura, contact the Law Office of Karen S. Brown. Karen S. Brown is a Certified Legal Specialist in Family Law and will work with you to get the situation resolved as quickly as possible.
Filing a Contempt Motion
The first consideration is whether the child support arrangement has been issued or approved by a judge. If you worked out a private deal and no court was ever involved, the option to file a motion for contempt is closed. In order for there to be a finding of contempt, the court must have issued a child support order that is now being violated.
If your child support arrangement was indeed issued by a court or approved when you and your ex submitted a plan, then you can file a motion for contempt in the county in which you reside. Once you file the motion, the court will hold a hearing. If the court finds that the spouse who owes the child support willfully stopped paying, it has several options. To collect the past due and ongoing payments, the court can:
- Garnish the non-paying spouse’s paycheck and/or bank account
- Order the money to be taken from the delinquent parent’s pension plan, veteran’s disability benefits, Social Security disability payments, unemployment compensation benefits, workers’ compensation, lottery winnings, and almost any other source of income
- Order that the delinquent parent’s property be sold to raise the money
- Place a lien on any real property owned by the delinquent parent
In addition, the court can fine the delinquent parent, order jail time, and/or impose community service obligations if it finds the delinquent parent to be in criminal, rather than civil, contempt. Judges generally don’t impose fines, however, because that involves taking money that could otherwise be used for child support payments.
If the delinquent parent can prove in court that they truly can’t continue making the payments, then the motion for contempt may be disallowed, but this requires a substantial burden of proof on the part of the noncustodial parent.
Statute of Limitations & Back Payments
The statute of limitations for filing a motion for contempt is three years. If your ex owes you six years of payments in arrears and you wait six years to file, you will only be eligible to collect three years of what’s owed to you. In some cases of continuing delinquency, you may have to file a motion every three years.
The delinquent parent may be hoping that, once the child turns 18, their child support obligation ends along with any past obligations, but this is not so. Even after the child turns 18 (or 19 if they have yet to finish high school), all past-due child support payments are still owed to the custodial parent.
Not only are all missed payments due, but California can also impose 10% interest per year on all overdue and retroactive child support payments.
Other Penalties for Non-Payment
A parent who is delinquent on child support payments faces issues with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which can refuse to issue or renew their driver’s license if payments are 30 days or more late. They may get a temporary license, valid for 150 days, allowing them time to catch up, but if payments are still not current after that period, the DMV can refuse to reissue it or renew their full driver’s license.
The Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) also monitors delinquent parents and reports them to the national credit reporting agencies. This could result in a negative credit rating.
Rely On the Law Office of Karen S. Brown for Help
Each parent has an obligation to support their children after divorce. One parent usually ends up with physical custody of the child, and the other with an obligation to provide financial support. Matters can unravel over time, however, and the custodial parent may be forced to seek help to enforce the original arrangement.