How Do Support Orders Get Enforced


While the first step in getting child or spousal support is to get a court order, this is only the beginning of the process. Unfortunately, many support orders go unpaid. However, there are a variety of ways that such orders can be enforced.


Child Support Enforcement Act

Many of the support efforts regarding enforcement are included in the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984. This federal law mandates that district attorneys or state attorneys assist parents in the collection of child support. The process involved usually includes the non-custodial parent meeting with the attorney to arrange a payment schedule. The order may state that jail time can be imposed if the parent does not follow the schedule.

Collection Tools

There are a number of collection tools that federal, state and local agencies can utilize to enforce a support order. Some of these tools are permitted only for child support cases, while some states allow the tools to be used for spousal or child support collection efforts.

For example, federal law allows a tax refund to be intercepted to enforce child support orders. Additionally, federal law provides for a mechanism in each state that allows an employer to withhold wages directly through an income withholding order for the collection of child support. This helps make the process easier for the non-custodial parent to pay and for the custodial parent to receive child support. This process does not require a non-custodial parent to be behind on support payments in order to implement it.

Another collection effort is to suspend or revoke a non-paying party’s driver’s or occupational license. A noncustodial parent may also have his or her passport restricted to prevent him or her from leaving the country. Property may also be seized due to delinquent support.

Federal Prosecutions

The United States Office of the Inspector General can intervene in child support cases that involve an out-of-state parent. Before this office gets involved, the non-paying party must have refused to pay child support for over one year and owes more than $5,000, or the non-paying party has traveled to another state or country in an attempt to avoid paying child support.
Punishment for a first offense can result in six months imprisonment and fines. A subsequent offense can result in a fine up to $250,000, two years imprisonment or both.

Contempt of Court

The court that issued a child support or spousal support order may also find the non-paying party to be in contempt of court. When a parent or spouse does not provide for support payments, he or she is not only affecting the child or spouse who expects payment. Such a parent or spouse affects the court system. Judges do not like when individuals intentionally disobey their orders.

Upon your request, the non-paying party can be ordered to appear in court. If there is no reasonable or legitimate explanation for the delinquency, the court can impose a jail term or make additional orders to ensure payment. Judges may impose other consequences, too. For example, he or she may order that the rents and profits from real estate owned by the disobeying party be confiscated and applied to the spousal or child support debt.

Another potential consequence is for a judge to order income withholding. If the original spousal or child support order did not provide for income withholding, the judge may include it in a contempt order. This allows the spouse or parent to receive the funds directly from the employer. One disadvantage to income withholding orders is that they do not work on unemployed or self-employed individuals. However, a court may order a self-employed individual to set up a special trust account to ensure that the recipient spouse receives the support that was ordered.

Writs of Execution

Another possible enforcement mechanism is a writ of execution. This order by the judge allows the spouse or parent to receive an award for a portion the other spouse’s or parent’s financial accounts or assets.

Judgment and Interest

For spousal support orders, the recipient spouse may receive a judgment which typically includes interest if the other spouse is not paying. Some jurisdictions allow the recipient spouse to be reimbursed for his or her attorneys’ fees. Other collection mechanisms are opened up when a spouse is armed with a judgment.