WHAT IF MY EX STOPS PAYING CHILD SUPPORT?
Unfortunately, unpaid child support is a not an uncommon frustration among custodial parents; however, there are a number of options available for enforcement and modification of child support orders in accordance with federal and New Jersey Law.
Financial and emotional support are critical to a child’s well-being and when one parent does not take this responsibility seriously, it should not be overlooked. Child support covers the financial component of a child’s well-being, providing compensation for ongoing expenses associated with basic needs until the child reaches age 18 or is no longer enrolled in high school or secondary education.
Under NJ family law, the right to child support belongs to the child and not the parent, which means that its purpose is not to protect either parent but solely to protect the best interest of the child. Parental obligation to pay child support remains the same regardless of the state of the parent-child relationship. While child support requests are commonly made during divorce proceedings, parents who are legally separated or do not live with one another are bound by this legal obligation.
If your child’s parent stops paying child support, the best course of action is to consult an experienced New Jersey family law attorney and seek enforcement of the existing child support order. If the obligor, the parent who owes child support, lives in another state, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) will ensure enforcement and modification can take place with no conflict due to orders issued by courts of different states. While UIFSA enhances the court’s ability to enforce child support orders that were issued in another jurisdiction, it restricts NJ courts from entering or modifying an order established by a court with jurisdiction. It also gives NJ courts jurisdiction over non-resident defendants. Under UIFSA only one support order exists at a given time.
Fortunately, New Jersey has a wide range of child support enforcement methods in accordance with Rule 5:7-5. Some of the most common and effective methods include:
- INCOME WITHHOLDING: wage garnishment, in which income is withheld from the obligor’s paycheck, is one of the most effective ways of enforcement. Pursuant to N.J.S. 2A:4-30.97 through N.J.S. 2A:4-30.103, an employer notified of an income withholding order must comply with the order regardless of what state is was registered. Income withholding may also be applied to all incomes used to calculate support including unemployment, workers’ compensation, and certain disability benefits.
- NJ CHILD SUPPORT LIEN ACT: a child support judgment establishes an automatic prioritized lien against the net proceeds in excess of $2,000 of any lawsuit judgment or settlement, arbitration award, workers’ compensation award, or inheritance.
- FINANCIAL INSTITUTION DATA MATCH: if child support is three months behind, the obligor’s financial assets will be subject to seizure. The financial institution is required to surrender the assets after proper notice and a 30 day contest period. A separate court order must be established for the probation department to identify and seize the obligor’s financial assets in accordance with N.J.S. 2A:17-56.57.
- TAX OFFSET OR INTERCEPT: tax refunds may be used to pay child support arrears that exceed a certain amount. Payments due to the State for public assistance benefits paid as child support are first to be paid with the federal tax refund, while the remaining amount is given to the obligee. Generally, state tax refunds are first used to pay the obligee-parent. To qualify for federal tax offset, the amount of unpaid support must be at least $150 in public assistance cases and $500 in non-public assistance cases. For state tax offset the amount of unpaid support must be equal or greater than one month’s support obligation.
- APPOINTMENT OF RECEIVER; ASSET SEIZURE: the court may also appoint a custodial receiver to take possession of the obligor’s property and sell or use it to satisfy amounts due under a support order pursuant to N.J.S. 2A:34-23.
Other than income withholding, the rest of the techniques above are applied after failure to comply with the child support order. Moreover, if the obligor still fails to willfully comply with the support order, more severe enforcement may occur in the form of coercive sanctions, pursuant to R. 5:6-5 (enforcement of orders). This permits the court to proceed by carrying out any combination of the sanctions in R. 5:3-7 which include:
- Ordering temporary incarceration or issuing a warrant to be executed upon the obligor’s failure to comply in the future; and
- Suspending any state occupational or driver’s license; and
- Imposing economic sanctions; and
- Requiring the delinquent obligor to participate in an approved community service program; and
- Ordering any other equitable remedy deemed to be appropriate.
These coercive sanctions are not intended to be used as punishment, but as a way to facilitate enforcement. Typically, an ability to comply hearing is held before the court orders these sanctions to ensure that the obligor has the present ability to pay. Therefore, incarceration is used sparingly in situations when is it likely to lead to compliance with the child support order.
While New Jersey law has numerous ways to protect children and custodial parents in this matter, it can be a tedious and draining process to get payments made regularly if the obligor is unwilling to comply with any order or agreement. At Armour Law, we will help you modify your existing order with the court and ensure that all appropriate enforcement methods are employed.