How to Collect Overdue Child Support or Spousal Support Arrears

Child Support and Spousal Support Arrears

If your ex has fallen behind on child support or spousal support payments ordered by the Court, there are a number of ways you can go about collecting what is owed to you. The laws of the State of California and the United States generally give debts owed for child support and spousal support special preference amongst debtors. Generally speaking, support arrears cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and are not subject to a judgment renewal requirement. There are also streamlined methods for collecting from a paycheck and special consideration if seeking to collect from traditionally untouchable income such as VA and unemployment benefits. Most states, California included, have a special agency that assists in the collection of child support and may have unique tools available to them that is not available to the public, such as in California the Department of Child Support Services (“DCSS”) can intercept tax refunds.

Determining Arrears / Overdue balance
Before you can collect on overdue payments you’ll need what we call a “money judgment”, meaning a judge determines exactly what is owed and enters a judgment for the debt. Determining the amount owed will require either a signed agreement to what is owed, or filing the appropriate motion with a court to request the judge accept your math and determine the amounts of principal and interested owed for support. Once you have a money judgment you can collect on that judgment.

Wage Garnishment/Income Withholding
In California one of the most commonly used collection techniques is withholding the amounts due or overdue directly from the debtor’s paycheck. This is especially useful for those who are employed in reputable or large companies with a payroll department. Withholding child support from a paycheck is a relatively easy task to accomplish, and although it may take several months for the initial withholding to start once its in place it works quite well to collect your support for so long as the debtor is employed in that job.

A wage garnishment is also available for spousal support and for support arrears; however, different mechanisms are used to accomplish this and are a bit more complex. While harder to accomplish, a wage garnishment is still one of the most common and effective means to collect on spousal support or support arrears.

Bank Levy
Once you have a money judgment you can request what is called “Writ” from the court. With this writ you can get the local authorities, usually the sheriff’s department, to levy the bank account or bank accounts of the debtor up to the amount owed on the money judgment. This can be a great and relatively inexpensive way to collect large amounts of what is owed to you very quickly. The downside is that by the time you are in a position to levy the bank account, the debtor may be on to you and clear out their bank accounts before you get there. Additionally, a bank levy requires you already know which financial institution they bank at.

Tax Refund Intercept
Frequently debtors are current on their taxes and have a refund coming to them in the first or second quarter of the year. You may be eligible to intercept the tax refund diverting it to you in order to satisfy the child support or spousal support debt owed to you.

Suspension of Passport or Licenses
If you register your child support case with the DCSS and the arrears owed to you exceed $2,500, the debtor’s US Passport will likely be automatically suspended and can only be released upon satisfaction of the debt (with some exceptions).

In California, the DCSS can also seek to suspend any state issued licenses that have been issued to a debtor owing on child support. Licenses such as a drivers license and even other licenses such as a license to practice law or medicine, barbers, psychology, etc. Anything the State licenses one for can be suspended as an enticement to come current on a support obligation.

Other Collection Methods
There are a variety of other collection methods for overdue support that an experienced attorney may have knowledge of and can use to assist you.

Some of these collection methods can be a bit tricky and complex requiring the assistance of an experienced family law attorney such as the ones at Mesnik Law Group, Inc. Often times an attorney will assist with collecting overdue support on a contingency fees basis. Contact us at Mesnik Law Group, Inc. to discuss your support arrears case to determine how we can assist you and the best method or methods to help you collect on your overdue support orders.

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