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ENFORCING SUPPORT ORDERS in California

Enforcing California Child Support and Alimony Orders

As a private person, you have a host of remedies. Some require the assistance of an attorneys, other may not depending upon your relative interest and motivation. These include:

Wage Assignment Orders

In all cases where California support orders are issued (or even if out of state support orders are being enforced here), a Wage Assignment Order (aka earnings assignment or income withholding order) must issue which includes arrearages if applicable and once they have been determined. Family Code section 5230. In order to be effective, these must be served by at least first-class mail upon the obligor's employer. Not later than 10 days thereafter, the employer is required to commence payments of the court ordered amounts so long as and only to the extent that they do not exceed 50% of the employee's net income per pay period. This must continue until the employer receives notice of termination of the order. These orders take precedence over any other kind of non-support assignment or wage garnishment. An employer who wilfully fails or refuses to honor the earnings withholding order is liable for the amount it should have paid over. Family Code section 5241.


Support Contempt Proceedings

A party who wilfully refuses to comply with any court order, and specifically an order for the payment of child support, spousal support, or an attorney fee order, may be guilty of contempt of court. Family Code section 290.

As to support, each monthly failure to pay all or any part of the court ordered support is one count of contempt, and each count subjects the contemnor to up 5 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Because contempt potentially involves jail time, they are difficult and expensive to prove but they can be a very effective remedy for getting the attention and compliance of a party who values their freedom. You will not succeed without an attorney who has actual experience litigating them.

So long as you do not allege more than 35 counts of contempt, the other party will not be entitled to a jury trial but in any case if they do not have private counsel the family court is going to appoint the Public Defender's office to represent them in the contempt proceedings only. There is a 3 year statute of limitations for pursuing contempt for nonpayment of support and attorney fees; there is a two year statute of limitation barring all other forms of contempt of court orders.


Writ of Execution/Receiver

Support orders may be enforced like any other money judgment. This means that you may obtain a Writ of Execution and enforce a money judgment against bank accounts, or property, or even ask that a receiver be placed in a business owned by the obligor to collect money as it comes in.


Interest; Bankruptcy; Renewal of Judgments in Support Cases

Support orders accrue interest at 10% from the date of each installment becomes due. Family Code section 155. Courts do not have discretion to relieve the obligor of the interest. Interest is a serious matter, since at 10%, principal doubles every 7 years.

Unpaid support cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

Support orders never die. California is one of the toughest states upon deadbeat father s and deadbeat mothers. You do not need to renew a support judgment in order to preserve it [Family Code section 291], unlike a 10 year rule of limitations for renewal of judgments that applies for almost all other types of civil money judgments. There is no defense for not paying a valid support order except possibly one - where the party entitled to the support order disappears and actively hides the minor child for whom the support is made during the entire period of minority, then perhaps an obligor may succeed in having a court vitiate the support order. However, the defense of laches (an unreasonable delay in enforcing a legal right) may be asserted against the State in cases where welfare was paid out for the benefit of the other spouse or a minor child but a long, long time passes before any agency undertakes action to recover it.


Attorney's Fees in Collecting Unpaid Support

You may also be able to recover your attorney's fees incurred for your enforcement action pursuant to Family Code section 3557.


UIFSA in California

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act has been adopted in every state, and similar uniform rules for collecting support have been adopted in many foreign jurisdictions which allow for enforcement of orders here. The purpose of this uniform act is to augment and expedite spousal and child support enforcement, and even the collection of related attorney fees, wherever a support obligee (a parent who owes per a support order in any state) moves or can or might be found. This way, to the extent that someone relocates between States or simply works in a neighboring state, and whether or not they are avoiding a support obligation, support orders from any issuing state can be enforced quickly and efficiently.

If support orders issued in Maricopa County, Arizona need to be enforced in Riverside County, California, certified copies of the out of state decree are merely filed and registered here and immediately any and all of the remedies outlined above become available. Even if the support obligor doesn't live or work here, but owns property in this State, orders can issue that can enforced against personal property or real estate. The California UIFSA statutes are found at Family Code sections 4901 et seq. You don't need to be a California resident to take advantage of these rules.

Under certain limited circumstances child support orders issued in another state may be modified in California. This means that if a payor parent moves here, once the out of state support order is registered here it may be possible to modify it under more favorable California laws. Conversely, if parent and child live here and the payor parent does not but wishes to avail themselves of California law, they too may be able to seek a modification here. Once that occurs, California becomes the new jurisdictional situs for further support modifications and enforcement. However, although spousal support can be collected here, whether to modify it always remains under the control of the original state where orders were issued.


Child Support Civil Penalty

This may be an extremely effective tool for collecting delinquent child support in California: The child support civil penalty statutes found at Family Code section 4721 - 4728. Essentially if the statutory procedure is correctly followed, each and every unpaid installment of child support will incur a civil penalty of up to 6% percent per month.There is a maximum 72 percent of the original amount that can be imposed, but this 72% interest in a year! If this doesn't get the deadbeat parent's attention, it is hard to imagine what will.

To avoid the child support penalty once the requesting party has given proper notice of the delinquency, the obligor must pay the past due support money within 30 days. If they do not, the obligee (party who is owed) may file a motion for a judgment for the principal amount plus penalties and interest. This presents the last opportunity for the payor parent to work out a solution and convince the Court it is not fair to impose the penalty. Thereafter, the judgment is enforceable in the same manner as any other.


Child Support Security Fund

Another useful support collection tool in California is found beginning at Family Code section 4560. This allows the Court to order that the child support payor deposit into a court controlled account up to one year's worth of future support. This account is then used to guarantee the normal flow of monthly child support monies to the recipient parent. Family Code section 4570 provides that if monthly installment thereafter is more than 10 days late, the court shall order the recipient parent paid from that account and that the account be replenished. Obviously, this method is more likely to enforced as against an affluent deadbeat parent.


Department of Child Support Services Enforcement

If the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) becomes involved, additional enforcement options come into play. DCSS must enforce orders where custodial parents are receiving State Welfare and other forms of governmental assistance. In such cases, they may also enforce spousal support orders.

Even if you are not receiving governmental aid you may assign your collection rights for child support to the Department and they must enforce these orders free of cost to you. However, they are over burdened, they are a bureaucracy, and they are not your personal advocate. There are pros and cons in utilizing their services.

For instance, they are able to intercept tax refunds and can access tax records that are otherwise confidential or that the other party just refuses to produce. They can force banks to give up information regarding cash flow. They can cause the California DMV to suspend a driver's license. They can take away Passports. They can suspend professional licenses. They can seek criminal prosecution for Penal Code failure to support crimes.

DCSS employees are overworked and underpaid. Still, if you lack funds and access to competent legal counsel, DCSS may aid you.

Author: Thurman Arnold


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