A custodial parent who is owed child support can place a lien on your property. A lien is a notice that tells the world that there are claims against you for money.
(You can learn more about personal and real property liens in our area on how debts are collected.)
Usually the custodial parent files a lien with the same office where the property is registered or recorded. For example, a lien on your house would be filed with the county recorder in the county where your house is located. The lien remains until your child is no longer entitled to support and you've paid all the arrears, or until the custodial parent agrees to remove the lien.
Although some states require that the custodial parent obtain a judgment for the arrears before putting a lien on property, most states allow liens to be imposed on property when you miss court-ordered support payments. To check the lien requirements in your state, go to the Office of Child Support Enforcement website at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse.
With a lien, the custodial parent can force the sale of your property or wait until the property is sold or refinanced and then get the money that's owed.
Your best defense is to schedule a hearing before a judge and claim that the lien impairs your ability to pay your current support. For example, if the lien is on your house and is going to keep you from borrowing money to pay the child support arrears, make that clear to the judge. You'll probably need to bring copies of loan rejection letters stating that your poor credit rating -- due to the lien -- was the reason for the rejection.
To help locate the assets of parents who owe child support, all states are required to maintain what is known as a "data match system." Under this system, financial institutions that do business in a state, such as banks, insurance companies, and brokers, must provide that state's child support enforcement agencies with account information on clients who have past-due support obligations. The agency can then use this information to place a lien on and seize assets of people who owe child support.
To learn about other ways the government or your child's other parent can collect child support from you, see our Enforcement of Child Support Obligations area.
This is an excerpt from Nolo's Solve Your Money Troubles: Debt, Credit & Bankruptcy, by Margaret Reiter and Robin Leonard.