As family law attorneys, we are frequently asked by clients what they can do about enforcing court orders and collecting child support that is due, but unpaid. They may have a co-parent who is paid under the table, has unreliable or fluctuating income, is self-employed, or who manages to dodge payments in other ways.
They may have entered into an agreement that allowed child support to be paid directly or without wage withholding, not fully understanding why that is unlikely to work out in the long term. There is good news and bad news on this topic. The good news: it is absolutely possible to obtain those overdue payments, also referred to as child support arrearages. The bad news: it will likely require a little effort and the help of an experienced Ohio child support attorney.
You may have heard that child support is something that a parent owes to his or her child, not to the other parent. That is technically true: both parents have a duty to support their child. It feels different to the receiver of support (the obligee), however, when it is his or her bank account that is suffering due to the overdue child support.
Child support is designed to help the receiving parent pay for the child’s needs: food, shelter, clothing, and so on. In the words of a Magistrate, children need to eat every day; payment of child support once every three months does them no good. Realistically, children still need those basic necessities whether or not child support is paid. The parent receiving child support doesn’t just stop paying rent or buying food because they didn’t receive the payment that was due.
Because both parents have a financial duty to the children, when one parent does not financially contribute, the other parent is, by default, picking up that slack by covering those costs. This extra expenditure by the receiving parent functions as a “loan” to the other parent by covering the costs for the child. This is why unpaid child support is viewed as a debt to the other parent. The intention behind the payment is for the child, but the person left holding the bag in the end is the receiving parent (who has received much less than he or she should have).
Just like any other debt, there are a variety of ways it can be collected. Let’s take a look at the law and the options.
Ohio Law Regarding Child Support Arrearages
In Ohio, a parent may pursue payment of child support arrearages through the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA). Each Ohio County has a CSEA office responsible for the administration of child support, and the CSEA has many tools at its disposal. The agency will not share the paying parent’s (the obligor’s) personal information with the receiving parent and many times the agency requires a bit of assistance in obtaining information about a non-paying parent. This could include the last known employment, last known address, or general whereabouts.
Another option is to hire a private experienced Ohio child support attorney to file a motion to enforce with the Court. The motion can take a couple of different formats, but would likely request the amount that is past due be determined as a judgment, opening multiple avenues for collection to the receiving parent.
An obligor of child support is considered in default if he or she has failed to pay an amount under a support order that is equal to or greater than the amount of support payable under the support order for one month. So if child support due is $500 per month, and an obligor owes $600, he or she is in default.
Obligors in default may be subject to:
- Wage garnishment (if not already in place);
- Garnishment of other income, such as unemployment compensation and worker’s compensation (to the extent permitted by law and if not already in place);
- Withholding or seizure of state and federal tax refunds;
- Withholding or seizure of the proceeds of life insurance policies, lottery prizes, annuities, pensions, trust funds, settlements, awards, and lump sum payments due the obligor;
- Putting a lien against real estate for the judgment amount; and
- Having access to accounts at financial institutions restricted.
As with other debts, a child support arrearage may also be reported to credit bureaus. A CSEA may suspend an obligor’s driver’s license, hunting license, or other licenses granted by the State of Ohio.
In addition to the back payments owed, if the issue is brought to the court, the obligor will often be ordered to pay interest and may have to pay fines, and will likely have to pay attorney’s fees and court costs. In the most serious cases, a child support obligor in default may find himself or herself on a “Most Wanted” poster featuring other obligors who defaulted on their child support obligations.
Under some circumstances, an obligor who refuses to pay child support can be found in contempt of court and may even face jail time. Civil contempt will carry purge conditions to erase a jail sentence, which can include timely payments, payments on arrearages, interest, fines, and attorney fees by deadlines set by the court.
How to Start Pursuing Overdue Child Support in Ohio
Sometimes, CSEA will handle an investigation and prosecution into default on child support on its own or with authorization or on request of the receiving parent. If this is the route taken, CSEA will conduct an investigation, completing it within 20 days after it is ordered by the court. The obligor must be notified within 15 days after a default is identified. If the obligor is employed, a withholding notice will be sent to the employer. The obligor may contest the withholding (which doesn’t stop the notice from going into effect). If the obligor doesn’t request an administrative hearing, the default notice becomes final and enforceable.
If the obligor does request an administrative hearing in a timely fashion, the CSEA will determine if there was a mistake of fact in the default notice. If the obligor disagrees with the outcome of the administrative hearing, he or she can file a motion to request a court hearing within 14 days after the CSEA issues its determination. If the court determines that the obligor is in default on child support payments, that determination is final.
Experienced attorneys can assist obligees who know they are owed unpaid child support to file the appropriate motions in court, asking for judgments on arrears, and enforcing the child support by requiring certain steps and payments be made. Many times, seeking enforcement of orders in court is preferable, as it skips the timetable for CSEA to complete its investigation and go through the administrative process.
The bottom line is that failure to pay child support hurts children and places stress on the parent who is supposed to be receiving support. If your child’s other parent is behind on child support payments, don’t hesitate to seek help. Likewise, if you are an obligor and believe that you received a notice of default that was wrong, you need to move promptly to have a correct determination made. We invite you to contact Graham-Hurd Law to take action regarding your child support matter.