Family Law

Divorce Paying and Collecting Child Support FAQ

Q: Can I terminate my ex-spouse's visitation if he or she doesn't pay child support?

  • A:No. Child support and visitation are independent obligations. You can't stop paying support if visitation is denied, and you can't deny visitation for nonpayment of child support. Withholding visitation would be contempt of court and might be a criminal act.

Q: How can I collect overdue support?

  • A:You have several options. If the noncustodial parent is employed, you can simply file an income withholding order. Most states are set to allow you to do this without a lawyer. Just go to your local courthouse and explain to them what you're trying to accomplish; they'll probably have a form ready to use. If you don't know where the noncustodial parent is, or the noncustodial parent isn't employed, you may need to contact your local child support services office. They may charge you a small fee (typically $25 or so) to handle the collection from start to finish. In most states, though, using child support services has a little of a "cattle call" feel, and the service you get will typically be much slower than what you would receive from a private attorney.

    Many states are trying new ways to make deadbeat parents pay child support. Some states now have laws allowing for the suspension of a deadbeat parent's driver's license. The suspension is lifted when the parent begins to make payments or enters into an agreement to do so.

    One state has begun "booting" the automobiles of deadbeat parents. Cars of deadbeat parents are immobilized by baby blue and pink "boots." A sticker is also placed on the windshield of the car stating that the car has been "seized by the sheriff for unpaid child support." Apparently, this has been a very successful method of collection.

Q: I haven't seen my ex in 15 years and I have some support judgments against him. I recently found him in another state. Can I collect these judgments from him?

  • A:There could be two major problems with collecting your past due back child support. First, the state in which your divorce decree was issued may have a statute barring your claim. For example, in California the statute for enforcement of a judgment for back child support has no time limitation, but it doesn't expressly provide for collecting child support backwards in time. A California court denied a claim for back child support for a "child" in her forties under this statute.

    Your claim may also be barred by a legal doctrine called "laches." This doctrine is used as a defense when a legal claim becomes stale and prejudicial because a lot of time has passed. There normally must be unreasonable delay in asserting rights which works to unduly prejudice the other party.

Q: I've heard that I can get a lien against my ex-husband's house for the back child support he owes me. Is this true?

  • A:Likely, yes. You must first go to the divorce court and have any support arrearage or back support reduced to a judgment. Only then can you have a lien put on the house. You must also be sure that your ex-husband owns the house or has an interest in the house as a tenant in common. If someone other than your ex-husband has an interest in the house or the house is owned as a joint tenancy, the lien may not attach to the house. The Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that a lien could not attach on a house owned as joint tenancy in the names of an ex-husband and his second wife. For the lien to be enforceable, it had to have attached while only the ex-husband owned the house, because the ex-wife had no judgment against the second wife for child support.

Q: My ex told me I didn't have to pay support anymore. Will she still be able to go to court and collect from me?

  • A:Your ex-wife may be able to take you to court and collect both current and past due child support. Support is a right of the child, and the parents often cannot waive it. Additionally, a court order cannot be terminated except by its own terms or through court action. The court order stays out there even if the mother tells you that you don't have to pay. Failing to pay could be a contempt of court, or even a criminal act.

    The proper way to address this is through a written modification and agreement filed with the court, if your state allows such.

Have a divorce question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a Divorce lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys

Talk to a Divorce attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you