How do I get child support from my job-switching ex?

They are many ways to enforce child support orders and encourage, or even force, parents to pay.

Question

First, my ex-husband simply wouldn’t pay child support; so, the court garnished his wages. Then the payments stopped coming because he got his employer to claim that he’d been fired. The truth is, he only transferred divisions within the same company—he’s even been seen driving the company truck. I’ve filed suit, but it’s going to be a while before I get into court. In the meantime, can I do anything about his dodging the system?

Answer

All states have child support enforcement agencies (usually called the Office of Child Support Services or Department of Child Support Services). These agencies are dedicated to enforcing child support orders and going after parents that fail to pay. If your ex owes you more than $500 in child support, you can contact your local child support enforcement agency for help.

In addition to garnishing your ex-husband’s wages, the state may use more aggressive tactics to recover your support. They can arrange for the Internal Revenue Service to take money from your ex-husband’s tax refund in order to pay child support. The same is true if you're receiving welfare or other government benefits (Medicaid) and your ex-husband owes more than $150. Your best first step is to notify your state enforcement agency as soon as your ex-husband meets either threshold.

Does your ex-husband own property, like a residence? If so, you can contact the agency where the property is registered and request a lien on the property, meaning if he sells his home, you’ll be paid from the profits. In some states, you’ll be required to sue your ex-husband for the past-due support, but once you get a judgment from the court, you can request the lien.

In most states, an employer may be guilty of perjury if the company submits a knowingly false statement about an employee to the court. If you have witnesses or a photo of your ex-husband driving the company truck, it might strike enough fear in the human resources department that the representative will correct the “error” to avoid prosecution.

If your evidence isn’t enough to convince the company to do the right thing, you can subpoena employee records from your ex-husband’s employer. A subpoena is a legal request that requires a person to testify in court (subpoena ad testificandum), or a request for documents (subpoena duces tecum), and it’s not optional. If the company doesn’t comply with the subpoena, it may face civil or criminal penalties. You may be able to complete the subpoena request yourself. However, it’s much easier if you hire an attorney to prepare one for you. Along the same lines, you can subpoena your ex-husband’s bank records, pay stubs, and tax records.

If you’re unable to obtain records by subpoena, you can file a motion for contempt of court. Some courts call this a show cause motion, other’s a contempt hearing. Contempt means that you’ve violated a court order, which is serious business. Usually, the offender must appear in front of the judge to explain why he or she is breaking the court order. Judges typically have discretion when it comes to penalties for contempt, which means if your ex-husband is guilty, he may face fines or jail time.

Once the court becomes aware of your ex-husband’s deception, it will be more difficult for him to gain sympathy later. Although courts base child support on a state formula, if he wants to modify the court order after another job or income change, the court will probably be less inclined to grant his request for a modification.

The failure to pay child support is serious, and if your ex-husband refuses to pay the court-ordered amount of support, he will face significant penalties. Typically, the court will begin by asking your ex-husband to appear in front of the judge to explain why he’s behind in payments and ask him to provide a proposed solution. If he continues to ignore the obligation, the court may suspend your ex-husband’s driver’s license, or even a professional license, like a contractor or medical license. After the court exhausts its other penalties, your ex-husband may face a bench warrant or even time in jail (or prison.)

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