How Do You Get Your Child Support Money?

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It’s a common situation: You’re a single parent, and your ex has stopped paying child support.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, just 41.2% of custodial parents received the full amount of child support owed to them in 2009. In fact, the report says nearly a third of parents got nothing at all. And because these parents were more than twice as likely as the general population to be poor, that’s money they really need.

Luckily, federal and state laws are generous to parents of either gender who are owed child support. State and local government agencies in every state will collect from “deadbeat” payers. A parent seeking to collect unpaid child support has the right to garnish the other parent’s wages, have his or her driver’s license suspended, empty bank accounts and stop real estate deals. The federal government will not issue a new passport to someone who owes unpaid child support. Child support debts cannot even be discharged in bankruptcy, although the payments may be lowered.

And while laws in different states may differ, there’s no fleeing your responsibility: According to the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, parents who move across state lines in order to avoid child support payments can be charged with a felony.

Some parents in this situation might be dreading going back to court; others might be looking forward to it. But Jim Hennenhoefer, a San Diego family lawyer, says a punishing court case should be the last resort.

“The last one, the least desirable one, the one you only do if there’s no hope … is contempt [of court],” says Hennenhoefer, a family law specialist certified by the State Bar of California.

So, if you’re in this situation, where should you start?

First, Get It in Writing

In all states, child support obligations are created by court orders. You probably got your child support order as part of a divorce or support case. Even if you didn’t go to court in person—which can happen when the court just approves an agreement the parents made—there should still be something in writing. That’s your starting point. Even if you’d rather resolve the issue out of court, a court order gives your ex an incentive to negotiate.

If you never made a formal written agreement with your ex, it’s time to go to court. Without anything in writing, there’s literally nothing to enforce. A government child support enforcement agency (see our section on Getting Help From the Government, below) can often help you get an order, or you can hire an attorney.

Then, Can You Talk?

You don’t have to start by talking with your ex—but family law experts recommend that you try. Negotiating is quicker than any collection effort, less likely to create bad feelings and far cheaper than a court case. For those reasons, it’s usually in the best interest of the children. But don’t do this if you can prove your ex is lying about his or her finances, or when there’s a history of domestic violence. 

Even if you do agree on changes to your written agreement, you should spell them out and get your deal approved by a judge. Remember, if there’s no court order, your rights under the new agreement aren’t enforceable. Attorney fees for an uncontested change in a support order should be relatively low.

We’ll show you a few options to pursue getting a court order below.

  • JOn

    I wish they need to back off. Many of deadbeat payer probably loose the job and have no income or making less income. I am single parent and primary care custody. I do not believe this bullshit child support system. Single parent need to start take of yourself and not rely somebody’s money and child support. My advice – s;ways share custody and it is good for the children.. Don’t need money war game.

    • Rona

      LOL. That sounds great Jon in an imaginary world where you assume the other parent wants anything to do with their kids in the first place. Your 100% correct Single parents shouldn’t have to rely on child support because the other parent should automatically be providing for their kids needs, however that doesn’t seem to always happen some people need to be forced to take care of their responsibilities and we need a system in play for that.

    • Jen

      Your story is unfortunately not that uncommon, Jon, and certainly not laughable.

    • Kittens and Jesus

      Yeah, I should share custody of my children with my drug addicted ex wife.

      I got clean through therapy and other programs while she kept using and ended up living with her father’s ex wife.

      I have the kids.

      She gets to be the good guy. The one who never punishes, but only sends presents.

      I’m the one who has to deal with ALL the discipline and ALL the tears (“I want my mom!!!).

      She has enough money to send presents, but hasn’t sent a dime for clothing, sports, haircuts, toys…

      I’m the one footing the bill.

      She’s the “good guy”, I’m the “bad guy”.

      I spend the back breaking hours earning enough to keep us afloat, she has Skype chats.

      We had these children together, we should pay together.

      It’s not a war game, its called adult responsibility. I’m owning up to it, why shouldn’t she?

  • Con

    How about if you have the child 50% of the time, pay for their health insurance out of your pocket, pay the other parent child support that is so much, it forces you to move back in with your parents, meanwhile, she doesn’t work, collects foodstamps and medicaid, has another child with another man, and now they are looking at buying a house with an FHA loan and down payment assistance? The child support system is very ‘pro single mom’s”. I get that there are many deadbeat dads out there, but she is NOT disabled and I’m NOT a deadbeat! There is no reason she can’t work, and I’m paying her money to stay home and take care of another man’s baby, while my child is now school age. The child support system needs to help out the single dad’s who actually care for and love their children, yet pay so much in child support to someone who simply refuses to work.

    • Sondra

      Then you need to go back to court and have your situation looked at again. Especially if you have it in writing that you have the child half the time. The reason you pay child support even in that situation is so the child maintains the same level of care with either parent. If she’s blowing it all on herself or you feel you could do a better job, fight for full custody and have proof that she’s being an irresponsible parent. If she’s on welfare, she’s also allowed to receive financial help with daycare through the state so that she can get a job. You’d be surprised by the fact that judge’s look favorably on father’s that want to be a part of their child’s life.

      • Con

        Thanks, Sondra, going back to court is definitely in the cards…the hardest part of this whole situation is trying to deal with it while leaving my son out of it. I have tried really hard to maintain an amicable relationship with his mother throughout this whole situation, but I think she has taken my ‘nice guy’ attitude for granted.

        When we first put my son in preschool (which she fought very hard against, and my only guess why was that if she no longer took care of him during the day, her excuse for not working would be taken away), we could only afford to send him two days per week. After about a month they told us about the program for discounted preschool so he could go every day if she would get a job or was actively looking for a job. She never did, and a month after that she announced she was pregnant…so frustrating. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it.

  • imdb

    First thing – go to Child Support Services and file a ‘claim’. That way, if the non-custodial parent gets a tax return, wins the lottery, etc., that money will come to the custodial parent first. My x went on strike through his employment several years back. He never once considered how this effected his children, suddenly having no child support. It was all a big vacation for him. We survived and I learned then to file a claim first thing.

  • Milasmatic

    In my country, when people (men, dah, it´s always the men) don´t pay, they can be condemned to spend the night in prison. Simply and effective.

    • NotClinging2Support

      It is not always the men.
      The mother of my daughters, now ages 10 and 13, pulled a disappearing act 7 years ago to avoid paying, and has never even contacted them since! It is, evidently, not that uncommon anymore. Mothers can be just as irresponsible as fathers, and often are.
      As far as I’m concerned, they don’t know what they’re missing out on!
      My ex is missing out on the joys of parenthood; while I’m only missing out on Child Support!

    • single.dad.hates.your.comment

      Hate your statement always men that’s so rediculous maybe you need a better choice I have four biological kids. 3 of them past relationships all diff moms I have custody of all three of them and one I don’t I get no help fromvthevthree other moms nothing and I pay full child support on the one I don’t have so yeah not always the men maybe a long time ago but some men are stepping up and doing more than moms maybe you should do some research before you bash or maybe you need better taste in men

      • I smell bullshit

        may be you should wear a condom too

    • Lori Breland

      Its true it is not always the men. But it is overwhelmingly the men. Sorry gentlemen but I have to date met one man in the situation I am in and several (and I mean SEVERAL) women in a similar boat. I don’t make enough to hire an attorney again. I have to homeschool my son due to his ADHD and the public school’s constant insistence that I need to increase his dosage of medication. Keep in mind the doctor’s tell you when your child is on these drugs of the adverse side effect it can have on their heart. So my son is homeschooled by his grandmother while I’m at work, and I pay her $250 a month, not including the money used to pay for his online schooling. I have not received child support in over a year and a half and even before that he was horribly sporadic. He owes well over $29,000 now, and he was required to pay a gigantic $83.00 a week. His visitations have ceased, and this is not my doing I have not moved, changed my phone number, nothing. He just refuses to see his son, refuses to pay child support or the medical insurance so everything has been on me since our son was one. Tell me who do I go to seek assistance? I have been denied by TANF. Food assistance was a whole whopping $20.00 a month for 3 months. And Obamacare won’t qualify me for any medical assistance (keeps making me verify my identity but its just a constant run-around). So for the moment I am squeaking by, but I cannot save anything, cannot finish my degree, cannot afford to buy nice new things for my son. I feel like a horrible mother who is completely incapable of providing for her baby the way he deserves, but I get no help. So it may not always be the men, but gentlemen you must admit you are the minority. I applaud you for being daddy’s and not just sperm donors. The world desperately needs more men like you.

  • jen

    No kidding – in 2009 many noncustodial parents lost their jobs in the recession and can’t afford to go to court to have it changed. Custodial parents’ income and ability to work should be considered in all states, because a child is the responsibility of two parents.

    The system, particularly in gross income states, is unfair to the noncustodial parent. I do not collect child support for my child from a previous relationship because I think it’s unfair, and I support her and my husband alone because he couldn’t possibly live on his own due to his own child support obligations.

    • ridiculous

      Really???? So, it is fair for your ex not to support his daughter financially because he has other kids and child support payments?? Sooooooo who’s fault is that? He needs a better paying job. Then, you take care of your husband alone. Geeez!!! I’m going to be born a man in my next life! Wake up! You’re a doormat. You said in your post that a child is the responsibility of both parents.

  • veromrtz

    What if the father is from another country and is not legal? And I don’t get help from the government because I make too much. Yet I’m trying to go back to college, have bad credit (because I helped my family) and a single mother of 2 children. I don’t want everything paid, just need their help. Financially (even if its $100-$300 a month) and physically. Any advice?

  • Me

    Here is a kicker for 13 years I have paid $584 a month child support for my daughter and Medical Insurance and got to spend very little time until Last August when I got a call from the State asking me to take custody of my daughter, comes to find out her mother told her I was a deadbeat who never paid support and wanted nothing to do with her so I went to the file cabinet and pulled out the state record and just showed her I had paid her mom $91,000 to date. Now ready for this she owes me $279 a month for support has not paid a dime, quit her job all while the state can not figure how to shut off my support so I to date still get deducted $584 a month support that goes to her and all I hear is “You will get that back sir when we get this sorted out” YEA HELLO she already owes me $3,000 in Back Support and you think she is now going to give me back the $7000 additional I have paid her this past year while having full custody of my daughter? Not all Dad’s are deadbeats and lucky I don’t need her money but how funny when the shoe is on the other foot it gets ugly.

  • Jen

    My situation is a little different. I have 2 kids, their “father” was supposed to pay $50/month through PA domestics. I received 1 payment before he took me back to court. At that hearing I found out about other children he had with other women. So they relinquished him of alll financial responsibility saying they need to allot him $700 and some odd dollars a month to live off of. With all these kids and since he had quit his job to not have to pay how can I expect him to contribute. I called the 1800 # and the man I spoke to said that is unheard of, but I can pursue it in court. My point is I will have to miss work for court hearings, pay for an attorney and still not get anything from him. So in the end I’d be out even more money. I am educated and make well over minimum wage and work overtime any opportunity I get. I still struggle, but because of my income I don’t get assistance of any kind. I pay daycare to go to work, and take all responsibility for the kids. He is still not working because he feels he shouldn’t have to work to pay child support. I’m not asking for welfare or anything like that but is there something I can do or qualify for any type of help? I don’t think its fair he gets to walk away from everything! I’m at a loss and tired of struggling when I shouldn’t have to. I’ve moved from PA to FL 3 yrs ago and never attempted to pursue here because again I feel it will only cost me more money that I don’t have. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  • Dawn

    My ex husband has paid nothing. He is 500 pounds and a huge addict. I have been caretaking for both my parents for two years, my dad died so my ex thinks I can support my child on my dead fathers money. I let him come out to see his daughter he did nothing drank a bottle of vodka,a bottle of whiskey, and slept and ate. He is dying I know heart failure he cant breathe and I am sure his kidneys are shot. I have a HUGE heart, I don’t know what to do, if I go back to court so they throw him in jail, he will die, I cant do that to my daughter she lost the only stable father figure in her life my dad…… she is old enough to get it she is 12, she wants nothing to do with him and know she wants to loose 10 pounds (OMG SHE IS NOT OVERWEIGHT) some parents choose to loose everything over pills drinking and women….. sad and I am stuck between a rock and a hard place…… every situation is different some parents need to learn how not to be selfish. Stupid me lent him 100 dollars (oh he owes mw 86,000 dollars in back support) only for him to fly home and buy a bottle of vodka….. his mother is enabling him but she tells me everything….. that goes to show his addictions are more important than his daughter….. I am afraid by Christmas he will die…. this whole thing sucks. I am going back to court and try to talk to the judge….I have no idea what to do :(

    • Phil

      for what it’s worth,,
      I’ve had custody of my daughter ,(from my 2nd marriage), since she was 2 years old, My Ex has always found a way to avoid paying her support, lied to the judges, provided false documents, etc, I paying thousands for an attorney, waste of money!. Her Arrears are currently @ $30K+. My daughter is now 19 and In the Army. Court Order states My Ex’s arrears obligation is $50.00 a month now she is emancipated, – but she wont even pay that! .She makes a fortune, my daughter tells me.. alternately, I payed child support for 20 years on my 1st mistake, i mean marriage, which I had 2 boys. Hard, Hell yes to pay half your pay check and watch your Ex drive a BMW and your boys get nothing, DA on your ass always, wage garnishments etc… So I have been on both sides.it sucks, but it about your kids, not the money! Please don’t use your kids as a means of income by way of child support, it only hurts the kids..(My first Ex dragged me in and out of court for years, always wanting more, never enough, even though she made more money then me)..Not a whole lot of options to collect your support, unless you hire a private PI or Collection firm that sucks up 30%.. what to do…

    • Wander Dads

      When one is sick and your aware of it and it effects the kids, help him: by leading to support
      A lot of various free agencies out there & future don’t offer any monet at all anymore, until
      He chooses to gain support and show love for his daughter, & make a change.

  • Nicole Gerald

    I have been asking my sons father for more help with our son and the next thing I know is I see him with his brand new car on Facebook I was pissed it wasn’t like I asked for something that he’s not already suppose to be doing but I want to know what I can do now because my son is now 14 and I know that his father owes him well over $25,000

  • tonya

    The state of ca is horrible, they have done nothing always asking me for info and do nothing with it at all. They didn’t take any property they could have before he sold it all but didn’t and then became a professional addict living in half way homes and sober living to avoid paying he believes it’s their step father’s responsibility to take care of them (he does by all means) but it’s crap!

  • imdb

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  • t

    I earn $2200 a month. my ex the mother of our one daughter receive $700 a month of my $2200 leaving me $1500 a month to live on! yes I’ve been to court twice that was the courts decision in my situation. love is hard.

  • https://www.patreon.com/DAStanley?ty=h D. A. Stanley

    “A parent seeking to collect unpaid child support has the right to garnish the other parent’s wages, have his or her driver’s license suspended, empty bank accounts and stop real estate deals. The federal government will not issue a new passport to someone who owes unpaid child support. Child support debts cannot even be discharged in bankruptcy, although the payments may be lowered.” Also, as far as throwing the deadbeat parent in jail…how does this get support to the children? The parent in jail gets on work release and makes minimum wage? Better than nothing but not what children need…
    My ex-wife has evaded child support for 2 years now, owes more than $20k in arrears, does not drive, does not own anything, has no interest in traveling with the need of a passport, has no job (she had one for a while but as soon as her tax refund was seized two years ago, suddenly she was unemployed), lives in another state, does not try to see the kids and does not give her location during calls, finally our local CSA got a warrant issued for her arrest…so pretty much the extent of our enforcement is “she better not get a job or come back to the state the kids are in”. She just lives off whatever guy she latches onto (has had several boyfriends and been married twice since we divorced, not to mention 3 more kids). I know she receives low-income aid benefits which makes no sense to me since she has to go through a government agency and if agencies communicated they would be able to locate her and enforce this more.
    I have outright exclaimed to my local CSA director that she has obviously found a loophole in the system, proof being that she DOES NOT PAY CHILD SUPPORT, yet they blatantly deny that she is getting away with anything. To me it seems like she has found exactly the situation where nothing can really be done unless I shell out the money to hire a lawyer and see real action taken…in the meantime where do I magically get this money? Can I get a loan based on the $20k she legally owes? NO! I make just enough to maintain rent, bills, food etc…an extra 10k a year would have made it possible to get a proper house or at least family rental with a yard and more room for the kids to live comfortably, because I do understand that money is for supporting the kids, not my desires…yet the last two years all expenses have been out of my work earnings and she gets to just call and say things like “you know mommy loves you!” or “Dad better be taking good care of you!”. When the kids have even confronted her during calls to find out where she is she has changed the subject on them, my daughter, now 10, chooses not to talk to her anymore because she has started asking questions and my ex avoids them completely.
    My point is, apparently without me spending the money to fully pursue this personally (although I got a bit of a reprimand email when I contacted the federal child support agency with questions on enforcement beyond county level) this is as far as enforcement can go in this particular situation and any further action completely depends on her slipping up and acting like a normal human being…

  • Shaking my head

    My husband has been paying his baby momma with out a court order for over 10 years. They were never married, short term relationship and she told him she did not love him but not with out using birth control they got pregnant. She did no allow him to be a part of pregnancy process (she had a new man by then) until she wanted a baby sitter on Sundays and cash monthly. Yes cash. Should she be claiming this income she gets under the table? – she is married and not a single parent. She has not gone to court because she does not want him having custody. Mind you my husband is a stand up, honorable man. There is no reason to keep her from him and he loves her. He has had her every Sunday since she was born. The only time he does not see her on Sundays is because of her mom – she refuses to let him see her because she has made other plans or she needs his child to baby sit the other kids she has popped out in the last 6 years. 4 kids in 6 years! Can anyone give me an answer? ( I do believe that parents should pay child support) It’s not about the support its about her actions.

  • Maria

    Sometimes some father’s act as if they cared for their child, but in reality they don’t even try to do what they should to see their child. In my situation there was a DV and child support case he has agreed to and ordered by the judge. Has not made a payment what so ever. Has a job and all. Is a daddys boy expects for his mother to solve his problems and pay his dept. Some fathers need to realize that we did not make the babies alone. Step up to the plate.They are also responsible for half. I honestly have an always will support my baby. But I think is childish he trying to act like he wants to be in my babys life yet show diffrently. The least he can do is pay child support.

  • Glenn

    My ex son in law has been a drug and alcohol abuser so in order to get a decent job he has to take a drug test. So he takes on jobs where there is no drug test, pay is not very good. He left his wife and 3 kids, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. He felt sorry for himself so he just decided to leave and find women that were fun and had no issues. He left her with all the bills, no money, the rest of the story is pretty evident. When my daughter divorced him he was ordered to pay 6oo a month for 3 kids. Well he has never met his obligations, my daughter works 3 jobs, never has gotten caught up on bills and dad I help as much as we can. I know not every father is a deadbeat but why isn’t something done about the ones who are. He has no license, drives anyway because he is above the law. My daughter has sole custody, he does get them at times. He is disrespectful, calls her a fu**g. This and that. No one does a thing no one to turn to. What a mess…. any suggestions?

  • A Mom

    My ex not only is a CHILD SUPPORT EVADER, but does not spend time with her, participate in her life (school, medical issues, emotional issues, NOTHING!). I can’t believe what I’m reading from others here. He doesn’t report his earnings to the attorney general, his priority is women and has said so. He actually admitted our daughter is NOT his priority. Oh, about working? Try being a single Mom with a child with special needs, and not being ABLE to keep a job because there is NOONE else to take her to school or pick her up, take her to doctor appts, and other needs.
    Like I’ve read in this blog, a deadbeat is a deadbeat….my daughter’s father is one and it breaks my heart for my daughter. She loves him dearly, but the love and financial and medical obligations are NOT returned to her. It’s pathetic and sick. Oh, and the pregnancy was agreed upon and planned by both me and the deadbeat.
    FATHERS OR MOTHERS: PAY YOUR CHILD SUPPORT AND PROVIDE MEDICAL CARE – ESP. IF THAT’S ALL YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR CHILD. They are the victims an d yes, so are the custodial parents that obviously some of you know NOTHING of what we do for our kids!!!!!!

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