Unfortunately, many men are unable or simply refuse to pay child support even when ordered to do so by the court. Do not give up. There are steps you can take to enforce the child support order and get the money you need to support your family.

This advice is from the office of noted Philadelphia divorce lawyer Lee Schwartz, Esq.

Step #1: Get a Child Support Order from the Court

The first thing you must have is a child support order awarding you money to be paid to you by your ex. 

Child support orders are usually drafted and entered during divorce proceedings and can be modified by either party by filing a motion with the court. Single mothers can also petition the court to obtain child support from a child’s biological father, although paternity may have to be proven with a blood test.

By law, parents are required to financially support their children until they reach the age of majority, which is usually 18. If a child’s needs change, the mother’s income changes, or the father’s income changes, these are all grounds for increasing or decreasing the amount of child support the child is entitled to.

Step #2: Ask the Court for a Child Support Enforcement Order

If the father is not paying child support, you can file a motion with the family court to enforce the order. You will appear in court and present bank account records showing no deposits for the amount of child support ordered. Your ex will also appear and explain why he has not been paying child support, or if he has proven he has paid, to present that proof. 

The judge will explain the consequences of not paying child support and order your ex to resume payments and pay back-owed support by a certain date. The judge may also order that your ex pay your costs and legal fees. Many times, this is enough to compel a child support obligor to resume paying child support.

If your ex fails to appear at the motion hearing, and you have proof he was served with the motion papers and knew what date and time the hearing was to take place, the family law judge could either enter an order holding your ex in contempt of court or issue a bench warrant for his arrest.

Step #3: Ask the Court for an Order to Garnish Your Ex’s Wages

The court has the power to order your ex’s employer to pay you directly before paying your ex the remainder. Child support will be deducted from pay much like income tax or social security is deducted. This will happen automatically every pay period, cutting your ex out of the process and ensuring you get paid, as long as he is working for that employer. 

If your ex changes jobs or becomes unemployed, you can file a motion to modify the order and have child support deducted from wages at his new job or from unemployment benefits. 

Step #4: Ask the Court to Levy Your Ex’s Bank Accounts

If you can demonstrate a need to have child support arrears paid in full immediately, or if you know your ex has savings and has not been paying you out of spite, the court may order your ex’s bank to pay you from his accounts. 

Step #5: Ask the Court to Sell Your Ex’s Assets 

Child support obligees usually ask for this if the child support arrears are so great that the obligor cannot possibly catch up, or if the obligor has the money to pay but is spending it on other things besides child support.

If your ex has been spending money on things like jewelry, a new car, a boat, or other “toys,” the court has the power to seize those things and sell them for your benefit. 

Step #6: Ask the Court to Order Your Ex’s IRS Refund to Paid to You

If your ex is in arrears with child support, the court can order that his income tax refund be paid directly to you instead of to him. This is usually done electronically, with the IRS depositing the refund directly into your bank account.

Step #7: Ask the Court to Place a Lien on Your Ex’s Property

If your ex has no means to pay arrears, the court may enter a judgment in the amount owed and place a lien on any real property that he owns. He cannot sell or refinance that property until your lien is satisfied and you are paid.

Step #8: Ask the Court to Incarcerate Your Ex

This is a step of last resort, but the court has the power to put your ex in jail until he pays. A judge will do this in extreme circumstances, such as when your ex habitually fails to pay and forces you to file multiple motions for enforcement of the child support order, or if your ex fails to appear at enforcement motion hearings.

Bankruptcy Does Not Discharge Child Support Arrears

Even if your ex files Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, he cannot get out of paying past-due child support. Both child support and alimony or spousal support are nondischargeable in bankruptcy. 

If your ex files bankruptcy under Chapter 7, he will have to continue to pay you child support outside of the bankruptcy case. Child support arrears are nondischargeable as priority unsecured debts.

If your ex files bankruptcy under Chapter 13, again, he will have to pay you child support as it comes due, and he will have to pay any child support arrears to you through his three- or five-year Chapter 13 plan.

Your Ex Cannot Get Out of Paying Past-Due Child Support

If your ex’s financial situation changes because he is working less or not at all, he can petition the court for a reduction in child support payments. The court may award him a reduction in his obligation going forward, however, if he had fallen behind on child support prior to his motion, that amount must still be paid to you.