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Enforcing child support in California – an overview

If parents fall behind on their court-ordered child support payments, the state has enforcement action options to encourage them to make up their arrears.

As part of their responsibilities toward their children, most parents provide financial support until they reach adulthood and have the ability to provide for themselves. When getting divorced, the court often issues child support orders to ensure that, although no longer together, both parents continue to share this obligation. Unfortunately, however, sometimes people struggle to make these court-ordered payments.

Parents ordered to pay child support by the court often benefit from understanding the potential actions they face from the California Division of Child Support Services if they fall behind on their child support obligations.

Bank and property liens

When people owe past-due child support who have funds in financial accounts or property holdings of value, the division has the option to place liens on them. Such action does not require parents to withdraw from their accounts or liquidate their holdings to catch up, however. Rather, liens affect what they can and cannot do with the affected property. For example, a lien placed on a person’s second residence will impact his or her ability to sell the home.

Intercept of funds

The state also has the option to intercept certain funds of parents who have outstanding child support debt. Under some circumstances, the division will take a portion or all of people’s lottery winnings to satisfy their arrears. By the same token, parents who owe past due payments may also have their state or federal tax refunds seized by the division.

License suspensions

Those who fall behind on child support orders face the possible loss of their driving privileges. DCSS may have parents’ driver’s licenses suspended until they arrange an approved repayment plan or pay off their arrears. In addition to losing their right to drive, parents may also have their passports and professional licenses suspended. For instance, the state may place such a hold on a person’s contractor licensure, impacting his or her ability to work until they resolve their child support debts.

Contempt of court

When other options have not yielded results, the state may file contempt charges against nonpaying parents. Depending on the circumstances and exact charges, people found in contempt of the court face penalties such as fines and jail time. Typically, the court will order parents’ release from jail if they pay a specified amount of their child support debt.

Sometimes parents want to fulfill their court-ordered financial obligations toward their children, but life challenges such as the loss of a job or an extended illness impact their abilities. In addition to the enforcement actions, the state also offers options for parents to make up their arrears. Therefore, those struggling with their child support payments may consider options like filing for modifications to avoid the potential adverse actions falling behind may cause them, as well as their children.