Your children have a right to be financially supported by both of their parents. This right continues until each child has turned 18 and graduated high school, or until the child’s 19th birthday. You and the other child’s parent may be able to amicably come to an agreement about paying child support without ever getting the court involved. You also may have had child support ordered as part of your settlement agreement or litigated divorce decree. Either way, there may come a time when your child’s parent begins to consistently fail to make their child support payments. If this does happen, it’s important that you know your rights and how to proceed.
If Paternity Hasn’t Been Established
If you and your child’s father weren’t married when your child was born and he didn’t sign the birth certificate or an affidavit acknowledging paternity, you will need to first establish paternity before the court will order him to pay child support. You will need to file a motion with the court to compel the child’s father to submit to DNA testing. If it is a match, paternity will legally be established and the court can order child support payments.
If You Have an Informal Agreement
Your options of enforcing child support payments will be limited until you have a court order to support you. When applying for court ordered child support, you may request payments for up to 3 years prior. This doesn’t mean that you need to collect child support within 3 years of it being due- once child support is owed, it’s owed forever until it’s paid. It means that if you have no support order in place, you may only request it for the last 3 years of your child’s life. For example, if your child is 14, you will only be able to request payments for when the child was 11-14 years old. Depending on when your child graduates high school, you will be barred from requesting support when your child is 21 or 22 years old.
You will need to file a motion with the court and have it served on your child’s other parent. You will then both appear before the judge, who will take both of your wishes into consideration but ultimately rely on Arizona’s child support guidelines. This is a calculation using each parent’s income and parenting time to determine which parent should be paying, and how much. Once child support is ordered by the court, you will be able to pursue the collection methods below if the other parent misses payments. Another benefit of having an official court order is that back payments will accrue interest.
How to Enforce Your Child Support Order
Once you have a formal court order and the other parent has missed payments, you will need to contact The Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) to enforce the order. Contacting DCSS should motivate the parent to pay, because they will be facing serious consequences once DCSS is involved. These include:
- Wage garnishments: Also known as income withholding, the past due amount and/or current payments will be taken directly from the other parent’s paycheck. Unlike wage garnishments for most debts that range between 15-25%, garnishments for domestic obligations can be as high as 50% of that parent’s wages. This amount increases to 60% if the parent doesn’t have any other children or a dependent spouse. An additional 5% can be added if the parent is more than 12 weeks behind on payments. An additional benefit to wage garnishments is the embarrassment from their employer knowing about their child support arrearages may pressure the other parent to pay. Other forms of income such as worker’s compensation, retirement benefits, and unemployment benefits, may be garnished as well.
- Tax Refund Offset: If the other parent is more than $50 behind on child support payments, their tax returns may be diverted and paid to you.
- Credit Reporting: Once the parent is more than 180 days behind on support payments, DCSS will report the past due balance with the credit bureau. This will decrease the other parent’s credit score and make it more difficult to obtain new lines of credit.
- License Suspension: If the other parent falls more than 6 months behind on child support payments, DCSS will suspend or revoke that parent’s licenses. A professional license, such as a contractor’s license or an attorney’s bar licensure, can be suspended without a hearing. DCSS may also request a hearing to revoke or suspend the parent’s driver’s and recreational licenses.
- Property Liens: DCSS may place a lien on the other parent’s property such as their house or car. When this occurs, the parent must satisfy the past-due balance to be able to sell or refinance the property.
- Asset Seizure: If your spouse is more than 12 months behind on child support payments, DCSS may garnish that parent’s bank account directly.
- Lottery Winnings: Any lottery winnings of $600 or more will be seized and redirected to the custodial parent if the lottery winner is behind on child support payments.
Child Support Modifications
All too often, we receive requests from parents looking to reduce their child support arrearages. As mentioned above, once child support is due, it’s due. Support payments can only be modified going forward. A hearing for a child support modification can be requested at most once per year. The modification will only be granted if the noncustodial parent has experienced a “substantial and continuing change in circumstances.”
Child support arrearages also can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Chapter 13 may help you catch up on your payments while reorganizing other debts, but Chapter 7 will not liquidate domestic obligations like it does for most other debts.
Our Phoenix Family Attorneys Can Assist
Whether you need help obtaining or enforcing a child support order, or you need to request a modification, our experienced family law attorneys are here to help. We have years of representing clients just like you in Arizona and pride ourselves on skillful representation at a competitive rate. Call to schedule your free consultation today.