There are strict child support enforcement laws in California. Regardless of whether you are divorced, separated, or were never married, both parents have a legal responsibility to financially support their minor child. But unfortunately, a noncustodial parent may sometimes disregard their child support obligations and fail to make their monthly payments. It’s important to be aware that there are certain enforcement tools that can be employed by federal, state, and local agencies to ensure a parent complies with an order for child support.
Establishing Child Support
Before child support can be enforced, it must be established by court order. A verbal agreement between parents cannot be legally enforced by a court or any agency. Even if you and the child’s other parent agree on a support amount outside of court, a judge must approve the written agreement and sign it for it to become an enforceable order.
If parents cannot agree on child support, a hearing can be requested — and a judge will determine the amount. In California, child support payments are calculated based on a number of factors, including the income of each parent, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and any tax deductions available to either parent. Whether child support is decided by a settlement between the parents or a judge determines the outcome, any order issued by the court must be obeyed.
How Child Support Enforcement Works
In the event a non-custodial parent fails to pay court-ordered child support, the custodial parent may request assistance from an experienced child support attorney — or from their local Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) to ensure support payments are made. The following enforcement tools may be utilized when a parent is delinquent in their child support obligations:
- Wage deductions — A custodial parent may request a wage assignment or income withholding order. Through wage deduction, you can directly receive child support payments through the non-custodial parent’s wages or salary.
- License revocations and suspensions — The delinquent parent may have their professional license, driver’s license, and any boating, hunting, or recreational licenses revoked or suspended.
- Passport restrictions — To prevent the delinquent parent from leaving the country, they can be prevented from renewing their passport.
- Intercepting federal income tax returns — The state can intercept a delinquent parent’s tax refund to cover missing child support payments.
- Property liens — If child support is owed, a lien may be placed on the non-custodial parent’s real or personal property, and bank accounts.
- Contempt of court — Contempt of court is a legal order that can result in jail time or a monetary fine for the delinquent parent. To request that the non-paying parent be held in contempt of court for failure to obey a child support order issued by the judge, the custodial parent must make a motion to the court.
In California, felony charges can be brought when child support arrears in excess of $10,000 are owed, or support is more than two years past due. If the delinquent parent is convicted, they may be sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison, community service, and other penalties.
When Would the Federal Government Get Involved in a Child Support Matter?
While child support enforcement matters are usually handled by state and local authorities, a custodial parent can involve the federal government under certain circumstances. The U.S. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) may step in when the delinquent parent lives in a different state than that in which the child resides and 1) the amount owed is more than $5,000; 2) support has not been paid for over 1 year; and 3) the non-custodial parent has traveled to another county or state to evade their obligation.
Notably, the OIG keeps an online list of the most wanted child support fugitives — and works to ensure justice is carried out in the country’s worst deadbeat parent child support cases. Under the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, the OIG identifies, investigates, and prosecutes the worst child support offenders that meet the criteria for federal prosecution.
For the first nonpayment offense under federal law, the delinquent parent can be charged with a misdemeanor, subject to monetary fines, and sentenced up to six months in jail. If under the same circumstances, the child support has not been paid for two years or more, or the amount owed is more than $10,000 or more, the delinquent parent can face felony charges, be subjected to two years in jail and ordered to pay up to $250,000 in fines. Those who cross state lines or flee the country to avoid paying child support that has been past due for a year, or more than $5,000 is owed, can also face up to two years in prison.
Contact an Experienced Fresno Child Support Attorney
Child support matters are often complex and it’s essential to have a skilled family law attorney by your side to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. With more than 20 years of experience, the Law Offices of Rick D. Banks represents clients for a variety of child support matters throughout Fresno and the surrounding area. Whether you owe support or need to obtain an enforcement order, we work diligently to secure positive results in your case. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.