If you are owed child support, state agencies and state or district attorneys should offer free or low-cost help in collecting the money, even across state lines.

Filing for child support

To protect your rights, file for child support as soon as you and your partner separate. Child support judgments are issued as of the date of filing, and a court will not likely grant you child support for any time you were separated prior to requesting child support.

If payments don't come

If you have a court order for child support and that support fails to arrive, you can pursue payment. An agency in each state oversees child-support collection issues, and is obliged to provide you with help at little or no cost.

These agencies can locate your ex-spouse and seek payment even if the nonpaying spouse moves out of state. You may forward the child-support order to your ex-spouse's employer, their state child-support agency, or family court in their state for help enforcing your support order.

It is a felony to refuse to pay child support owed in one state when you live in another state. If your ex-spouse declares bankruptcy, that will not cancel the debt of back child support owed.

In the meantime, you may find yourself without the child support funds you need. You may need to seek money from family and friends, or obtain a loan to tide you over until the child support is collected.

Consequences of nonpayment

If your spouse is not paying court-ordered child support, district attorneys or state's attorneys in each state are obligated by law to help you collect the money you are owed. These lawyers may legally notify your ex-spouse that they may face jail if they do not make their support payments. The spouse may be able to work out a payment plan to catch up.

Government agencies may take a number of steps to help collect child support. The nonpaying spouse's income tax refund may be intercepted and sent to you. If your spouse works, part of their wages may be diverted to you, or their assets might be seized for sale and the proceeds given to you.

Ultimately, a nonpaying spouse may be held in contempt and sentenced to jail, but this rarely happens, as a jailed spouse cannot earn money to pay child support.

Government agencies may take other actions as well. For instance, the nonpaying spouse may not be able to get a U.S. passport. In some states, the nonpaying spouse's driver's license may be revoked, and their business or occupational licenses may be suspended.

Additional resources:

Enforcement of Child Support Orders FAQ

U.S. Administration for Children & Families: State Child Support Enforcement Web sites:

Related Legal Guides:

Child Support Laws

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