Review the Court Order
If your ex is not paying child support, the first step is to review your rights. Your court order will state the terms of child support, along with how it is to be paid, how much support is ordered, and the frequency of payments. Be sure that you are familiar with the terms of your order and how far behind your ex is before taking next steps.
Communicate With Your Ex
Diplomacy is the best first step when dealing with this issue. You may be able to find out why your ex-husband refuses to pay child support. It may be that he has recently lost a job or become ill. In time, he may be able to catch up on payments. They may need a (gentle) reminder to pay support.
When diplomacy fails, it may become necessary to escalate the issue, especially if your ex-husband refuses to pay child support for no real reason other than out of spite or greed. Remember that your children have the legal right to child support, even if your ex doesn’t want to pay it. You may be able to take legal action to collect the financial support you are due. Your options may include:
Find An Attorney
You can search for a child support attorney in your area. He or she can file a complaint and prepare a motion for contempt if your ex won’t pay child support. Before meeting with an attorney, prepare a list of questions to ask during your initial consultation, such as:
- Can my ex-husband stop paying child support?
- How can I collect unpaid child support?
- What do I do if my husband doesn’t want to pay child support?
- How can I protect myself if my ex gets mad at me for trying to collect child support?
- Does my ex-husband have to pay child support if my child lives with him part-time?
- How can I collect child support if I don’t know where my ex lives or works?
- How do I pay you?
The attorney you are meeting with should be able to answer these questions and others that you may have. He or she should also provide guidance on the best way to obtain the child support you are due.
Office of Child Support Services
Local government may have an office of child support services that can help and take the place of a lawyer. However, they may have a certain threshold of support payments that you have not received before they get involved. It is particularly useful to use this type of service if your ex has moved to another state since the offices in different states can work together to locate your ex and enforce the child support order.
Find Another Income Source
While you are waiting for collection efforts to result in actual payments to you, you may need to assess your financial situation and make some changes. It may be impossible to get child support payments from an ex if they simply don’t have the money or have disappeared. Finding another source of income can ensure that you and your children have enough money to live on regardless of the success of collection efforts.
Child Support Enforcement & Penalties
If your ex-husband won’t pay child support, there may be a variety of enforcement actions and penalties depending on the state where you live and your particular circumstances that may encourage him to pay up.
Through a process called “income withholding,” your ex’s employer can be required to automatically take out a certain portion of your ex’s earned income and redirect it to you for the payment of child support. This is often one of the most effective ways to collect child support. Some states require income withholding at the time that a child support order is initially entered while others may wait until an ex gets behind on child support or until there is an enforcement action taken against the ex.
Federal Income Tax Intercepts
Another possible way to get some of the unpaid child support you are owed is to intercept your ex’s federal income tax refund.
Your ex’s various licenses may be suspended as another type of enforcement action. This may include your ex’s:
- Driver’s license
- Professional license
- Recreational license like a hunting or fishing license
If your ex is $2,500 or more behind on child support, his or her passport application can be denied or a renewal can be rejected.
Contempt Of Court
Often used as a last resort, you may be able to file a contempt of court action against your ex. This type of action seeks to punish your ex for intentionally violating the court order. The court may be able to order a variety of possible penalties, up to and including jail time in some cases.
In some cases, federal prosecution may be possible if your ex-husband won’t pay child support. The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act is a federal law that penalizes a parent who has traveled to another state to avoid paying child support and who have failed to make child support payments for longer than one year and owe more than $5,000 in arrears or have failed to pay child support for more than two years and owe more than $10,000. For a first offense under this law, the parent can be imprisoned for up to six months. A second offense can result in imprisonment for up to two years. Additionally, the parent may be required to pay back child support payments equal to the amount in arrears.
Can I Withhold Visitation?
Visitation and child support are typically treated as two separate cases. If your ex refuses to pay child support, you generally cannot withhold visitation or you might find yourself on the receiving end of a contempt of court charge. Likewise, just because your ex pays child support, this does not entitle him or her to visitation. Instead, your ex will need to establish a right to visitation through a separate court order.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does My Ex-Husband Have to Pay Child Support?
Your ex-husband is only legally required to pay child support if there is a court order requiring it, such as instructions in your divorce decree or in a paternity action. In some cases, child support may not be ordered, such as if the parents have joint custody and make similar earnings.
What If My Ex Husband Refuses to Pay Child Support?
Even if your ex-husband doesn’t want to pay child support, he cannot legally unilaterally decide not to pay child support. If he fails to pay child support, there may be various types of enforcement action you can take to ensure your children receive the child support they are due, such as having his wages garnished for payment, his license suspended, or his passport application denied. Talk to a lawyer or your local office of child support enforcement services for more information.
What If My Ex Moves Out Of State?
Moving out of state does not relieve your ex from the obligation of paying child support. Another state can still force your ex to pay child support. Your lawyer or local child support enforcement office can help you locate your ex and register your court order with the state where your ex has moved.
Can Past Due Child Support Be Enforced?
Past due child support can usually be recouped and is not forgiven retroactively. You may be able to use a variety of enforcement mechanisms to recoup unpaid child support.
My Ex Lost His Job
If your ex has lost his job, he or she may petition the court to reduce or suspend child support payments. However, until there is a modification order in place, your ex is still on the hook for the unpaid child support. Additionally, even if the court modifies the order, it may still require your ex to pay something in child support. The court can impute income to an ex that it believes is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. You can also seek to garnish your ex’s unemployment benefits for unpaid child support.
Does Bankruptcy Absolve My Ex Of Child Support?
Unpaid child support is one of the few types of debts that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. Even if your ex files bankruptcy, you can still pursue action for unpaid child support.
What If My Ex Becomes Disabled?
If your ex becomes disabled, he or she may or may not be required to pay child support, based on the particular situation. SSI payments cannot be garnished to pay child support. So unless your ex has another source of income other than SSI, you probably cannot collect child support while he or she is receiving these payments. However, if your ex returns to work or loses these benefits, you can potentially pursue unpaid child support.
If your ex receives SSDI benefits or private disability insurance, you can generally still collect child support.
How Long Does Child Support Last?
States differ as to how long child support lasts, but it generally lasts at least until the child turns 18. There are some times when child support may end before the child’s 18th birthday, such as if they:
- Get married
- Join the armed forces
- Become legally emancipated
- No longer reside with the other parent
Many states will require the obligated parent to continue paying child support while the child is still enrolled in school until they graduate from high school.
If your child has special needs, the child support order may not have a specific end date.
In some states, child support may continue while your child is in college, but the amount of child support may change or you and your ex may have to agree on this arrangement, depending on state law.
Read your specific child support order to see how long your child support order will last.
What If My Ex Filed for Child Support But I Don’t Think I’m the Father?
When you receive notice of the child support action against you, you should consider contesting it. There should be information on it on how you can request a paternity test. If you are determined to be the father, you may be required to pay for the test. If you do not respond to the action, a child support order may still be made against you.
If My Children Went to Live with My Ex, Does Child Support Automatically End?
Generally, child support will still continue to be owed until there is an official modification of the child support order.
How Do I Modify Child Support?
If you believe the amount of child support is not fair or circumstances have changed, you may be able to have the court change (modify) it. You will need to file a petition to modify the child support order, stating the reasons why the modification is necessary. A lawyer or the office of child support enforcement may be able to help you.