Imagine you are single and sharing a parenting plan with your former partner. Everything starts amicably (if awkwardly), but you finally find a rhythm. Then your ex is late with a child support payment. And then the next one is late, too. Over the next several months, you receive sporadic payments here or there, but when you stop and think about it, it's been quite some time since you received a full, on-time payment.
In a situation like this, what can you do?
Discussing the matter
Having an honest (but polite) conversation with your former partner could be enough to get back on track. If a direct dialogue won't work, you could also seek assistance from a mediator or even attorneys to discuss the reasons behind non-payment. In some cases, simply reviewing the child support order and giving an ex his or her chance to explain can prompt a change.
Alternatively, if you learn your ex has experienced a dramatic shift in financial resources, you might seek temporary or permanent support modification.
Seeking state enforcement actions
If informal methods of enforcement are not successful, you can request that the Division of Child Support Services enforce the order. DCSS can do this in many different ways, including:
- Income withholding
- Property or bank account seizure
- Interception of lottery winnings or state tax refunds
- Suspending or revoking occupational, professional, recreational or driver's license
Other enforcement remedies
There are other ways to enforce a court order, from withholding unemployment benefits and passport denial to more aggressive actions, such as contempt of court and incarceration until a "purge" amount (i.e. percentage of the arrearage) is paid.
Mistakes to avoid when seeking unpaid child support
While it is understandably frustrating when a parent does not fulfill his or her obligation to pay child support, attempting to coerce payment by denying mandated parenting time is a huge mistake. It is also illegal! The family court will never tolerate a disruption to the access schedule because of financial delinquency - or vice versa - and people who try that tactic usually regret it. This is because our society values the independent benefit a child receives by seeing a parent even if financial problems have erupted on the side.
By the same token, it can also be unwise to merely wait for the situation to fix itself, or to blindly accept the other parent's claim that they cannot pay child support. Consider instead some basic rules, both written and unwritten:
1. Even if child support is "due" on the first day of the month, it is not officially "arrearage" if the obligor pays a few days later. For better or worse, Arizona law does not officially classify support as delinquent unless it remains unpaid through the remainder of the month. This is why many parents who owe support deliberately divide their payment over several weeks. They don't always do this for especially noble reasons, but there is not much you can do about it.
2. Exercise caution before racing into court to clamor for enforcement when a parent misses just a payment or two, makes only partial payments at first, or is simply late but eventually gets it done. Technically, yes, you can complain. It is your legal right. But bear in mind that court dockets are extremely crowded - often heavy with cases where delinquent parents owe thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. You want the court to take you seriously, and don't want to create the impression you were simply looking for an excuse to make the other parent look bad - even if that was not your intention. This is especially true if you made no effort to work with him or her outside of court first.
3. Along those same lines, make sure to balance the psychological, financial, and time cost associated with triggering a whole new enforcement action against the perceived benefit. People are generally good at weighing dollars against dollars, but often tend to underestimate the emotional toll and time investment associated with new litigation. Don't make that mistake!
If you still have doubts about this procedure, or remain unsure of your own judgment moving forward, it is always a good idea to consult with legal counsel.