Enforcement of Child Support Orders in a Maryland Divorce

Maryland's Child Support Program

Enforcing Child Support

It's a major headache for everyone when a parent refuses to pay his or her court ordered child support. This is a serious problem of national dimensions. A recent study found that less than half the parents awarded child support receive payment in full. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 1999, non-custodial parents failed to pay $13 billion the owed in child support payments. This failure is a major cause of poverty in children.
  • Families receiving public assistance - In Maryland, each county has established a child support enforcement agency that can assist you in collecting child support from your spouse. This agency has responsibility for collecting child support for families receiving cash assistance. However, you may also apply for help even if you are not receiving cash assistance. If you do receive cash assistance in Maryland, you must assign child support rights to the state. You must also help to locate the parent who is absent from the home.

    If you do not cooperate, you may be denied public assistance benefits.

  • Families not receiving public assistance - Services are available to non-public assistance parents by the payment of a non-refundable $25 fee. If you are representing yourself, and you are not on cash assistance, applying to the child support agency in your county for help is an excellent method of obtaining legal representation at minimal cost.

A child support order is as enforceable as any other court judgment or decree. A parent who is owed child support can use each and every legal tool available to enforce the order, including wage garnishments, wage assignments, contempt of court decrees and the seizure of the non-payor's property by writ of execution.

Use the Government's Parent Locator Service

Nonpaying parents may hide from the custodial parent in order to avoid their child support obligation. They may even go so far as to move out of state to avoid their responsibilities.

In order to fix this problem, the federal government has created the Parent Locator Service (The law also requires the states to establish a Parent Locator Services). The law allows you to use the resources of the federal government (including the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service) to locate a nonpaying parent's employer. Once found, the custodial parent or the state can enforce the child support order and collect unpaid support recovering support from tax refunds. The law also permits the IRS to pay past due child support from tax refunds that the nonpaying parent is due from the government.

For more information on the Parent Locator Service, contact the local office of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Obtain a Wage Assignment

A wage assignment is a special procedure that allows the court to order an employer to make direct payments to the custodial parent from the wages of the supporting parent. You can apply to the court for a wage assignment. Notice of this action must be served on the paying parent's employer. The employer will deduct child support like any other deduction from the paying parent's paycheck and send the money directly to the custodial parent. If the nonpaying parent holds a steady job, this is a very valuable tool.

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Request a Writ of Execution

A child support order can be enforced just like other court judgments. The court can seize assets of the nonpaying parent such as real property, bank accounts, stock, a paid-off car or other property. If you want to try this method of enforcing child support, it is a good idea to find an experienced attorney or seek help through the Child Support Enforcement Administration.

If you choose to go forward on your own, you should be aware that the Maryland Court Rules provide a wide variety of means to execute on judgments.  You will see that the language and the procedures may be unfamiliar to you which is why finding legal help is important.

  • Rule 2-633 allows a judgment creditor (you) to use legal methods to find out whether a debtor (the non-paying parent) has assets and where the assets are located, if you have a money judgment.
  • Rule 2-641 provides for the issuance of a writ of execution which is used to obtain real and personal property of the debtor or to exclude the debtor from having access to or use of personal property or to remove it from the premises.
  • Rule 2-642 describes the procedures the sheriff will use to post notice of the writ of execution on real property and to remove, label, or post notice of the attachment of personal property.
  • Rule 2-643 sets out the methods used to release property. If the property seized by levy is not released by one of these methods, you can use...
  • Rule 2-644 to request that the sheriff sell the property.

If you are not successful obtaining the property using the methods described above, you have other choices. For example, Rule 2-645 provides for the garnishment of property of the judgment debtor. Generally a writ of garnishment is used when a third party is holding property of the judgment debtor (no-paying parent). The rule states when the writ may be filed and what information shall be included in the writ. Rule 2-645 also describes how you must notify the other side and requires the person making service to mail a copy of the writ to the judgment debtor's last known address. Rule 2-646 governs the garnishment of wages of a judgment debtor. When seeking to execute a judgment, you should also review Rules 2-647-2-651 and research the cases listed in the rules.

In addition to the methods of securing a wage lien offered in the Maryland Rules, the General Assembly has passed laws to assist recipients of support to collect the funds due them from parents ordered to pay child support.

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Bring a Civil Contempt of Court Action.

If a person willfully disobeys a lawful child support order, s/he can be jailed for contempt of court. The civil contempt action is brought by the custodial parent. The court clerk will have the proper forms. After that, the nonpaying parent will have to be notified (served with process) since he or she has the Constitutional right to appear at the hearing and present a defense. If the nonpaying parent is served and does not appear, the trial court will order a bench warrant issued for his or her arrest.

If the court (finds beyond a reasonable doubt) that the parent has willfully failed to pay valid child support order, the court can order the nonpaying parent jailed. (A parent showing that they did not have the ability to pay will not be found in contempt of court, however s/he will continue to owe the money.)

Often, the mere threat of jail is sufficient to pry open the non-paying parent's pocketbook. However, in severe cases, parents will be jailed. Sometimes the jail sentence will end only when the proper payment has been made.

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Seek a Criminal Prosecution

All states also have criminal laws on the books to punish parents who refuse to pay their child support.  Maryland law says a parent is required to support his/her child.  Md. Fam. L. Code Ann. §10-203(a).  A person who violates the law may be fined up to $100 and/or imprisoned for up to 3 years. Md. Fam. L. Coe Ann. §10-203(c).

The state Child Support Enforcement Administration tries to track down parents who owe child support and get them to pay.  Md. Fam. L. Code Ann. §10-322(b).  If you want help from the Child Support Enforcement Administration to collect overdue child support, you can call 1-800-332-6347 and tell the person who answers that you want to open a child support account.  The agency will mail you a form to fill out and will tell you how to make an appointment to see someone in your local child support enforcement bureau.  More information is available on the Maryland Department of Human Resources Child Support Program website.

Your local child support enforcement office will forward information about your case to the child support unit of the local State's Attorney's office.  If you do not have court-ordered child support, the State's Attorney will get a court order that the non-paying parent must pay.  The Child Support Enforcement Administration will the enforce the order, and may take action such as contacting the non-paying parent's employer to have child support withheld from paychecks.  If all the Administration's efforts fail, the Administration will refer your case to the local State's Attorney's office for criminal prosecution. If the defendant (non-paying parent) is found guilty, he or she may be jailed or the guilty parent may be put on probation and allowed to remain free if he or she pays all back child support and makes all future payments in a timely manner.

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Tools You Can Use to Collect Child Support

  • A child support order may be enforced in the following ways:
    • Use of Government's Parent Locater Service: resources of federal government including Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service can be used to locate non-paying parent via an employer. Once found, the custodial parent or state can enforce the order and collect unpaid child support. The law also permits the IRS to pay child support arrears from tax refunds the non-paying parent may be owed by the government.
    • Wage Assignment: the court can order an employer to make direct payments to the custodial parent from the wages of the non-paying parent.
    • Request of Writ of Execution: property can be seized upon proper application to the court.
    • Civil Contempt: Civil contempt is intended to  (1) preserve and enforce the rights of private parties to a suit and (2) to compel obedience to orders and decrees primarily made to benefit the parties. A person charged with contempt can resolve the charge by paying the past due child support.
    • Criminal Prosecution
    • Uniform Enforcement of Support Act: this permits a party to complain to the local district attorney about unpaid child support by a parent who lives out of state. The local district attorney can then contact a district attorney in the locale where the non-paying parent lives. That office can then bring an action to enforce the order.
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