Enforcement of Court Orders
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
Enforcement of court orders depends on the law of the state in which you live. Some states, like California, require that payments of child support and alimony be paid by a wage assignment -- meaing that the amount of support is deducted from the payor's paycheck by the employer. In other states, like South Carolina, support can be required to be paid through the office of the clerk of court or directly to the spouse. If paid through the clerk, an administrative fee is tacked on to the amount of the payment made. Payments to the clerk must be made by certified funds or cashier's check.
Should a payor spouse fail or refuse to pay court-ordered child support or alimony, that person may be "ruled in" by the court and, if a valid excuse is not presented, held in contempt of court. If held in contempt, the court can punish the defaulting spouse by fine and/or a term in jail. Generally speaking, jail sentences are imposed only after all other means of attempting to get the payments made fail.
Should a valid reason for non-payment be provided to the court, the judge has the discretion to require the paying party to pay a lesser amount and allow the balance to accrue (with or without interest). The court also has jurisdiction to either increase future payments by a fraction of the arrearage in order to facilitate the payment of the arrearage over time (either with or without interest).
Another enforcement tool with which arrears in support can be collected is garnishment of wages which is now available in all states in one form or another. This is where a parent, spouse, or former spouse to whom a past-due support obligation is due can get a court order which is served on the defaulting party's employer. The employer can be required to withhold a specified percentage of the payor's net income which is then applied to the arrears.
Another tool, "wage assignment" may be available to collect both current support and alimony payments when they become due, in addition to those payments that are past-due. In this way, employer-made deductions from the payor's paycheck are sent directly to the parent, spouse, or former spouse to whom the payments are due.
Always check with a matrimonial lawyer where you live to find out the latest developments in your state before you act.