Child Support refers to a support obligation owing on behalf of a child or an amount owing to a county for reimbursement of public assistance paid on behalf of a child. The California Family Code codifies the general obligation of both parents to support their minor children “in the manner suitable to the child’s circumstances.”
Child Support is generally calculated utilizing a guideline formula. The guideline child support formula is presumptively correct and used to calculate child support, except in very rare circumstances. Several factors weigh into an analysis of child support. Such factors include both parents’ wages/salary, tax filing status, federal exemptions, and itemized deductions – to name a few.
Child Support payment amounts often include delinquency payments called “arrearages.” An arrearage is any unpaid child support payment that includes interest incurred on those payments.
In every case ordering child support, the court will order that a wage assignment (garnishment) be issued and served. The wage assignment informs the child support payor’s employer to take the support payments out of his or her wages. However, when the local support agency is not involved, both parents can agree that payments can be made in some other way and can ask that service of the wage assignment be “stayed” (i.e. put on hold).
Once the Court orders a party to pay child support, he or she must make the monthly child support payments starting on the date the judge so orders. Failure to do so can be detrimental and result in severe consequences. Below is a list of ten (10) consequences that may result if a child support payor fails to pay his/her court ordered support obligation:
- Negative Reports to Credit Bureaus:
The California Department of child support services (“DCSS”) maintains a list of delinquent parents and reports said parents to credit reporting agencies on a monthly basis. Such information reported to Credit Bureaus may likely negatively affect the delinquent parent’s credit rating.
- Denial of Tax Refund:
The California Department of child support services reports all persons paying support who owe arrears to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and to the Franchise Tax Board (FTB). The ISR and the FTB have the authority to intercept a tax refund to pay past – due child support.
- Denial of Passport:
If the child support payor owes more than $2,500 in past – due support payments, the United States State Department will not issue or renew a passport until all arrears are paid. Thus, if your passport is denied for this reason, you will be required to make arrangements with the local child support agency to ensure your child support payments are current before traveling outside of the United States.
- Seizure of Assets:
Many banks and loan institutions in the United States, including in the State of California, report the assets they hold. As such, a payor’s assets can be taken for payment of current and past – due child support.
- Property Liens:
In California, the local child support agency can record support orders and judgments with the County Recorder’s Office to create a lien against real property in any California county in which a parent who the child does not reside with for the majority of the time has or acquires an interest in real property (i.e. a house or land). Once the lien is filed, the payor-parent cannot sell or refinance the property unless arrears are paid in full. When the property is then sold, past – due support may be paid out from the sale proceeds of the home/land.
- License Suspension:
In California, if a parent is more than thirty (30) days behind on child support payments, the Department of Motor Vehicles may refuse to issue or renew his or her driver’s license. Delinquent parents may receive a temporary license (a license valid only for 150 days), but if the delinquent parent does not become current on child support payments, the state will not extend the temporary license or issue a permanent license. If a parent is behind by one hundred and twenty (120) days or more, the State of California will revoke the license altogether.
You should also note that failure to pay child support may not just result in a suspension of your driver’s license, but it may also result in a suspension of your professional licenses, such as a contractor’s license or a license to practice law or medicine.
A party subject to a valid court order who, with knowledge of the order and the ability to comply, fails to comply with the terms of the order is subject to a contempt adjudication and statutory contempt penalties. As an enforcement remedy, exercise of the contempt power enables the court to compel compliance with its valid orders.
Contempt can be criminal or civil. A contempt is criminal in nature if the person who is guilty of contempt (“contemnor”) is imprisoned for a set, unconditional period of time; and likewise, if the contemnor is ordered to pay a fine to the court. On the other hand, contempt is civil in nature if the contemnor is ordered imprisoned only until he or she performs an act ordered by the court. Unlike criminal contempt, civil contemnors hold the key to their jail cell in their own pocket and can secure their release at any time following the court’s order.
The party seeking to enforce child support in court (called the “plaintiff”) must file a written legal request (i.e. a motion) for contempt. You should note that in California, there is a statute of limitations (a time limit) on bringing a motion for contempt related to non-payment of support. The statue of limitations provides that you have three (3) years from the date a payment was due (but not paid) to file a contempt action against a delinquent parent.
- Unemployment Insurance Benefits:
The California Department Part of state unemployment benefit payments due to the noncustodial parent can be taken to pay both current and back child support.
- Worker’s Compensation:
When a parent paying child support has a Workers’ Compensation claim, a portion of the benefits he or she receives can be collected for current support and arrears. In addition, an Income Withholding Order can be used to collect up to twenty-five percent (25%) of any lump sum temporary disability benefits.
- Lottery Winnings:
Lottery winnings owed by the State of California to a person paying child support are automatically intercepted and forwarded to the State Disbursement Unit to pay arrears.
If any of the above-listed actions have been taken as a result of your failure to pay court – ordered child support, you should contact an experienced family law attorney to determine what is required in order to resolve this action.