If the parent obligated to pay child support (obligor) fails to pay their court-ordered child support obligation, that parent owes “arrears” to the other parent. Your local county Child Support Enforcement Unit (“CSE unit”) can help you enforce your existing child support order. Some mechanisms that a CSE unit uses to enforce payment of child support or to obtain payment on arrears is by garnishing wages, intercepting the obligor’s tax refund, suspending any government benefits issued to the obligor, and suspending their driver’s license or any other professional license held by the obligor.
In addition to or as an alternative to utilizing CSE for child support enforcement services, the person receiving child support (obligee) can file a Motion for Contempt with the Court in the same court case in which the child support order was issued. In your Motion for Contempt, you will need to explain the history of nonpayment of child support, list the amount of arrears that has accrued, and also attach a payment history of child support if one is available either through the Family Support Registry or the CSE unit. You will also need to list in your Motion whether you want punitive sanctions and/or remedial sanctions to be imposed against the obligor. Punitive sanctions can be entered by the court solely for the purpose of punishing the obligor for failing to pay child support and can include a fine up to $1,000 and/or jail time for up to 6 months. Remedial sanctions are for the purpose of remedying the violation. In a contempt proceeding for nonpayment of child support, remedial sanctions would simply be the requirement for all child support arrears to be paid in full. If the obligor is found to be in contempt, the court can also order the obligor to pay the attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the obligee in association with the enforcement of the child support order.
Once you file the Motion for Contempt, the court will issue a Contempt Citation. The Contempt Citation will list a time and date that the matter is set for an Advisement Hearing. You will have to serve the Motion for Contempt and Contempt Citation on the obligor by personal service. You can do this either by hiring a private process server or by requesting the local police department or sheriff’s office to serve the obligor for you. Once the obligor is served, you will receive a Return of Service or Affidavit of Service indicating service has been completed. You will need to file a copy of the Return of Service or Affidavit of Service with the court. At the advisement hearing, the obligor will be advised of his or her rights and will be permitted the opportunity to formally “deny” or “admit” the contempt. Most frequently, the contempt is denied, and the matter is set for an evidentiary hearing (trial) to determine whether or not the obligor is in contempt of the child support order.
At trial, the judge must not only analyze whether or not the obligor failed to pay child support, but also whether he or she was able to comply with the order during the timeframe in which he or she failed to pay it. While this may sound relatively simple, the “inability to comply” factor that the court must consider is often fiercely litigated, and in turn, makes the analysis of contempt much more complex than many litigants would expect. As a result, most litigants have the highest likelihood of successfully prevailing on or defending a Motion for Contempt for nonpayment of child support if they are represented by experienced legal counsel.
The attorneys at Smith & Shellenberger, LLC, are well-versed and experienced in child support proceedings, including contempt proceedings for failure to pay child support. If you are interested in speaking to one of the attorneys at Smith & Shellenberger, LLC, regarding your child support issue, please contact us at (303) 255-3588.