How to Enforce a Child Support Order

If a non-custodial parent fails to pay court-ordered child support, the custodial parent can rest assured that federal and state laws mandate tough enforcement procedures. Those who are delinquent and owe back child support are often called “deadbeat parents,” a term that also is often used in the titles of state laws meant to ensure the timely payment of child support. In legal terms, those who are delinquent in child support payments are said to be “in arrears.” A deadbeat parent’s failure to follow directives from a state authority could subject them to penalties including jail time. However, Since a jailed parent is unlikely to be able to make regular payments, it is reserved as a last resort and used more as a deterrent. The goal is to encourage non-custodial parents to pay the ordered amount of child support, so enforcement typically begins with the removal of certain privileges and other restrictions. For example, a parent owing more than $2,500 in support may be denied a passport until he or she pays their past due balance. Other common enforcement mechanisms include:

Withholding of wages (ie: garnishment)
Liens against real estate
Awarding of attorney fees for enforcement
Suspension of professional or driver’s license (in some states)
Contempt order

For those cases where parents live in different states, the federal Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) establishes matters of jurisdiction when more than one state is involved in a child support dispute. Specific components of the act are as follows:

States must defer to child support orders entered by courts in the child’s home state.
Continuing exclusive jurisdiction (CEJ) is granted to the place where the order was originally entered.
Only the law of the state with CEJ may be applied to modification requests.
A custodial parent may have an order mailed to an out-of-state court for assistance in enforcing the order.
A custodial parent may have an order mailed to the employer of the non-custodial parent (for wage garnishment).

The enforcement of child support orders is handled at the state level, and usually starts with the filing of a motion. Back child support is on the short list of debts that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. But even though deadbeat parents face the possibility of jail time for nonpayment, no one will be jailed simply for lack of means. A non-custodial parent who is unable to make full payments must file a formal motion requesting modification of child support, reflecting his or her current financial situation. Failure to file a motion could result in a default judgment of delinquency. To learn more contact one of our child support experts by emailing us at or call us at 505-880-8737.