What Can You Do If Your Ex Won’t Pay Child Support?

Washington’s Experienced Family Law Lawyers

After a divorce is over many parents hope to move on with their lives, leaving behind the court system, attorneys, and stress that comes with fighting for your legal rights. Unfortunately, the sad reality for some is that their spouses may fail to abide by the terms of a divorce agreement – including failing to pay child support – and this may require additional legal action.

Although having to deal with the courts and legal system due to a spouse’s violations or inactions can be frustrating and upsetting, the good news is that Washington has enacted important laws and procedures that make it relatively easy for ex-spouses to seek the justice they deserve.

Understanding Child Support in Puyallup

Child support is not simply a discretionary decision whereby one parent agrees to pay another a certain amount of money. In Washington, child support is usually determined through a careful calculation of the courts. This results in a specific court order requiring a non-custodial parent to pay a custodial parent a certain amount of money each month.

Even where parents informally agree to certain child support arrangements, without any specific calculation by the court , this arrangement must still be put in writing during the process of divorce, and ultimately approved by the judge. While this may seem onerous, it creates a paper record that a custodial parent can later use if a non-custodial parent becomes noncompliant.

When child support is ordered by the court, the failure to pay becomes more than simply a bad decision, a mistake, or a way to punish a former spouse. It becomes a violation of a legally binding court requirement, which can result in serious punishment by the court system that ordered it.

The First Steps in Enforcing a Child Support Order

The first step in enforcing a non-custodial parent’s violation of a child support order is to alert the court about the noncompliance. Former spouses who have a respectful and supportive relationship can certainly discuss the failure to pay informally before bringing the issue to the attention of the court, but it is important to steer clear of fights, violence, or other approaches that would only make the situation worse.

A custodial parent can alert the courts of failure to pay child support through the filing of an enforcement action. An enforcement action is simply a court pleading that alerts the court as to what is going on and asks the court to address the problem.

While parents are free to file an enforcement action without the assistance of an attorney, where it is anticipated that a legal battle may arise, having an attorney to represent you in the enforcement action can be very important.

After an enforcement action is filed, a judge will typically allow the non-custodial parent to respond and attempt to explain what is going on. If necessary, the court may even conduct a hearing on the issue.

If the non-custodial parent is found not to be in compliance with the child support court order, the court has a variety of options available to punish the non-custodial parent for the failure to comply. The court may fine the non-custodial parent for violating the court order and require the parent to pay the outstanding child support amounts.

The Court may also put the non-custodial parent in jail because they are in “contempt” of court by failing to abide by a court order. The jail term can be set for a specific amount of time, or can be until the non-custodial parent pays a certain portion of the outstanding child support amounts.

Getting the State Involved

In order to ensure that a parent who has been found by a court to be in noncompliance with child support requirements begins to pay required child support, the court has a variety of tools at its disposal.

Custodial parents may worry that an enforcement action is futile because it will simply result in another court order that a parent will again fail to comply with, but this is not the case. Instead, the custodial parent may utilize the assistance of the Washington Division of Child Support (“DCS”).

DCS has the power to force the non-custodial parent to repay unpaid child support by garnishing the non-custodial parent’s money or wages from a wide variety of sources. For example, DCS may:

  • Take wages from a non-custodial parents paycheck
  • Take tax refunds that the non-custodial parent is owed
  • Take unemployment or workers’ compensation benefits, or even pension benefits.
  • Attempt to garnish wages directly from the non-custodial parent’s bank accounts.

DCS may also take other types of actions to incentivize the non-custodial parent to pay. This includes suspending the non-custodial parent’s driver’s license, or taking away any professional licenses the parent possesses. DCS can also report the overdue payments to the credit agencies and file a lien on any property the non-custodial parent may own. If all of these actions fail, DCS may then refer the case back to the court for possible criminal proceedings.

Given all of these options for recovering child support payments, enforcement actions almost always make sense as long as the custodial parent has the time and ability to participate. With the help of an experienced family law attorney, the process can be fairly straightforward and helpful in ensuring that your child’s needs are covered.

Washington Lawyers Fighting for Your Rights to Adequate Support

Unfortunately, the failure to make child support payments is not an uncommon problem. Many parents fail to fulfill their responsibilities to their spouses and their children, and stop making payments with the hope that they will never be pursued.

At Blado Kiger Bolan, PS, our family law attorneys can work with you to file an enforcement action, vigorously represent your interests in court, and coordinate with DCS to see that all possible options are taken in trying to recover your overdue child support payments. To talk with a knowledgeable lawyer about your options, contact us online or at (253) 470-2356.

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