When parents get divorced, courts frequently order that one parent give monthly or other periodic child support payments to the other payments. This order is known as a child support order. The order provides for how frequently child support must be paid. The order also contains a date by which the party paying the support must pay.

What Sets the Deadline for Child Support Payments?

A judge may order child support payments to be paid by a noncustodial parent (the parent without custody of a child). A payment is considered late when a payment date (e..g, the 1st, 15th, or end of a month) stated in the order is missed.

The child support order may allow for a short “grace period,” or short additional period of time, for the parent without custody to make the payment. If the grace period passes and the parent still has not paid, a court or child support agency may issue a statement called a “Notice of Child Support Delinquency.”  This statement includes directions for how to make up the late payment and warns the non-paying parent of the legal consequences for failure to pay support.  

What Happens if Payment is Not Made When the Grace Period is Over?

A notice of delinquency states that if payment is not received by a specific date, the state will attempt to collect the past due child support. That is, the state will attempt to enforce the child support obligation that is past due. 

A parent may contest a notice of delinquency, but must have a valid reason for doing so. Valid reasons for delinquency may include job loss or other negative changes in circumstances. If a judge finds the parents’ reasons are valid, the judge allows the payment to make “catch up” payments. 

If the contest is unsuccessful, or a parent does not challenge the notice and still refuses to make payment, a state child support enforcement agency may attempt to enforce child support that is in arrears (is past due) in several ways. These include:

  • Withholding a portion of the delinquent parent’s wages. The portion withheld is used to pay the child support that past due;
  • Placing a lien on the non-paying parent’s property; 
    • A lien is a security interest placed on real estate or personal property to secure payment of a debt. The debt, in this instance, is the amount of child support that is in arrears (the amount of child support that is past due). With a lien, if a person sells real or personal property, a portion of the sale money will go toward the past-due child support obligation;
  • Seizure the property of the parent who has not paid the child report;
  • Taking a portion of a non-paying parent’s tax refund;
  • Suspending one or more of the non-paying parent’s licenses, including professional and drivers’ licenses; and 
  • Denying the parent the right to obtain or renew a U.S. passport.

If the non-paying parent refuses to pay, the court may order that parent in contempt of court. A contempt of court order states that a parent has violated a child support order’s terms. If a judge holds the non-paying parent in contempt, the parent can be ordered to serve time in jail, and/or face fines. 

Does the Federal Government Play a Role in Enforcing Child Support Obligations?

In some instances, the federal government may intervene against a parent who refuses to pay child support. 

In 1998, the federal government passed a law known as the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act (DPPA). This law makes it a felony for a parent who owes child support to cross state lines to evade making child support payments. The law also imposes criminal penalties on parents who are delinquent in child support payments.

Under the DPPA, a parent is guilty of a felony if:

  • The person travels to another state with the intent to avoid paying child support; and
  • The obligation either exceeds $5000, or has been past due for over a year.

Under the DPPA, a person may also be guilty of a felony if:

  • The person deliberately fails to pay child support for a child; 
  • The child lives in a different state; and
  • The amount owed is either over $10,000, or has not been paid for more than two years.

The DPPA also provides that a parent who has failed to pay child support will be placed on probation. If that parent violates the terms of their probation, the parent will be sentenced to jail time.

To comply with the terms of probation, the parent must:

  • Pay child support;
  • Make efforts to find a job so the parent can continue to pay support; and
  • Appear at required court hearings, including child support hearings. 

Do I Need the Help of a Child Support Lawyer?

If you either owe or are owed child support, you should consult with a child support lawyer. A local child support attorney can advise you as to your rights and options, and represent you in court.