Can Someone Be Legally Forced to Pay Child Support?

The state of California takes child support very seriously. In all matters related to children, when a divorce happens, the court’s primary focus is on what’s in the child’s best interests, and ensuring that the custodial parent has adequate financial support to provide for the child is clearly in those best interests.

Unfortunately, there are some parents who disagree with the idea that they should have to contribute financially to their child’s upbringing. That’s why California has strict laws and enforcement tactics to use if one parent is honoring their role in the divorce agreement. Here’s what you need to know.

When can child support orders be enforced?

The first thing to understand is that child support is enforceable by law in California only if there’s a legal child support agreement in writing and signed by a judge. If the parents only had a verbal or written agreement that didn’t go through court to be approved by a judge, the state can’t enforce it. That’s one of the reasons it’s crucial to work with an experienced divorce and child support attorney when going through divorce proceedings.

Another critical factor is the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a period in which someone can file a legal claim for something. When it comes to a parent being delinquent with child support payments, that statute of limitations is three years. What that means is that if the delinquent parent hasn’t paid child support in five years, the parent receiving payment can only file a claim for the most current three years. The first two years won’t be applicable to the claim.

What Does it Mean to Hold the Delinquent Parent in Contempt?

One of the most common enforcement methods is for the court to hold the delinquent parent in contempt of court. Contempt, which can be either a civil or criminal charge, means that the court believes the delinquent parent (known as the defendant) to have deliberately disobeyed a court order. If the contempt is criminal, they could end up paying not only the overdue child support but also additional fines and even jail time. If contempt is a civil charge, the defendant could be sent to jail, but the jail term would end once a specific portion of the amount due is paid. In either type of charge, the defendant could also be ordered to perform community service.

To begin the process of finding the defendant in contempt, the parent owed the payments (known as the plaintiff) has to file a written legal request with the court. The defendant will be served notice of the request, and a hearing will be scheduled for the judge to determine if the defendant is indeed in contempt.

If the defendant doesn’t appear at the hearing, the court can order an arrest warrant for them.

What Happens if They’re Found Guilty of Contempt of Court?

The judge will most likely order the overdue amounts to be paid as soon as possible. While fines may be assessed, it’s less likely as the judge would prefer the money be paid to the plaintiff instead. However, it’s possible that the judge will order the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s court costs in addition to the overdue child support.

What Are Other Tactics That Can Be Used to Enforce Overdue Child Support?

California has two other possibilities for punishing the plaintiff in child support cases.

  • The Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) monitors parents who are delinquent in their child support payments. DCSS has the ability to report late payments to credit agencies, which may, in turn, hurt the plaintiff’s credit rating.
  • The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has the option of refusing to issue or renew the plaintiff’s driver’s license if they’re more than 30 days behind in payments. The driver’s license can be revoked if they’re behind by 120 days or more.

What if the Plaintiff Claims They Can’t Afford to Pay Child Support?

The court would expect the plaintiff to prove their financial situation is such that they can’t afford the payments. But it doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically have payments reduced or discontinued. The court can take several different steps to ensure child support payments are provided to the plaintiff.

  • Wage garnishment. The court can order an amount to be withheld from the plaintiff’s paycheck and paid directly to the defendant.
  • Bank garnishment. Money from the defendant’s bank accounts can be pulled from those accounts and sent to the defendant.
  • Possession of real property. The court can order that possession of land or real estate can be used to generate funds for the plaintiff.
  • Order the plaintiff’s property to be sold to reduce the child support owed.
  • Order child support payments to be taken from any other of the plaintiff’s sources of income, including everything from pension plans to Social Security disability to lottery wins.

What Should I Do if I Need Help with Having Child Support Payments Collected and Enforced?

Call Tomassian, Pimentel & Shapazian as soon as possible at 559-277-7300 to set up a consultation. We understand that your child’s well-being is a primary concern, and ensuring child support payments arrive on a timely basis so you can provide for your child is vital. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable child support attorneys can go through the specifics of your case and determine the best approach to work toward the best possible outcomes.