Is your child's father or mother not paying you the child support he/she owes? This article discusses your options.
In California, both parents have a duty to provide support for a child. Whether parents are unmarried, divorced, or separated, child support is usually paid by the parent who does not have primary custody of the child. These payments are intended to cover the child’s food, clothing, and housing, medical care, and education.
Despite the existence of State guideline formulas, child support payments are one of the most contested aspects of divorce proceedings. Before we look at how to enforce child support payments, it’s important to keep in mind that visitation rights are entirely separate from child support obligations.
To ask the Court to enforce your child support payments with Contempt, you must make sure that you have a written child support order. This order can be found in your Marital Settlement Agreement or in FL – 342 Child Support Information and Order Attachment. For child support and family support orders it does not matter if the order is based upon the court’s order after a hearing or based upon a stipulation of the parties.
If there has been a failure of the other parent to pay child support, contempt proceedings are appropriate even if only some part of the child support is paid or if the child support is paid late.
The elements of contempt based on a failure to comply with a child support order differ slightly from other contempt cases. A prima facie case for child support contempt requires (1) a valid court order; (2) the other parent's knowledge of the order; and (3) noncompliance. Once this is established, the person charged with contempt has the burden of showing inability to pay by a preponderance of the evidence. This is different than other contempt cases because the person asking for contempt does not have to show that they know the other party has the ability to pay.
If the Contempt of court proceeding is for a willful violation to pay support, the contempt proceeding must be started no later than three years from the date that the payment was due.
One important consideration is whether or not a partial payment is being made as opposed to a complete nonpayment. In situations where there is a complete nonpayment of support you should look into whether your ex is paying other debts such as a mortgage or student loans or if his/her paycheck is being spent on entertainment or a high cost of living.
It’s important to know that if the other parent doesn’t have the financial ability to make the child support payments due to unemployment or lack of available income, the Court is unlikely to hold the parent in Contempt but they will require that some of the unemployment income goes to support and they may order a parent to participate in job training or to comply with the terms of a seek-work order.
However, unemployment without proof of attempts to find work is probably is no longer a defense. You can use a parents ability to earn to support a Contempt adjudication.
Is there anything else I can do? Yes. Contempt is usually a last resort and in California there are other methods of child support enforcement. For example, payments can be withheld from the paycheck of the parent who owes child support, the cost of the insurance may be deducted from the noncustodial parent’s paycheck, a property lien can be put on any personal property and real property, and tax returns can be used to pay past due support. Additionally, if a parent is behind on child support, the Department of Motor Vehicles may refuse to issue or renew their driver’s license.
To summarize, in order to pursue contempt for failure to pay child support you need to (1) have a valid order, (2) the other parent has to know about the order; (3) the other parent has to have failed to pay child support. Just remember that inability to pay is a defense for contempt.
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