Enforcement of Child Support Orders in a Maryland Divorce
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.
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.
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
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
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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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.
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.
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
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.
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...
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
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
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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
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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You Can Use to Collect Child Support
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- A child support order may be enforced in the
- 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.
Assignment: the court can order an employer to make direct
payments to the custodial parent from the wages of the non-paying
of Writ of Execution: property can be seized upon proper
application to the court.
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.
- 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.