What Do I Do If My Ex Stops Paying Child Support?

Recovering from a divorce can be difficult. Adjusting to a new place to live, stress at work and the financial ramifications can be daunting. And when you rely on child support to keep your child clothed and fed, losing that lifeline can lead to a huge struggle.

Your ex-spouse could have any number of reasons for withholding child support, but the bottom line is this: he or she must pay. Unless a child support agreement is just an oral agreement between you and your ex, under California law, your ex can be harshly penalized for withholding payments.

Contempt of Court in California

If your ex refuses to pay court-ordered child support, you have options. The first is a motion for contempt. Being held in contempt means that a judge has ruled you have willfully disobeyed a court order. Penalties for contempt of court can include fines and jail time. That’s right – if your ex does not pay, he or she can be jailed.

But you can’t wait. In California, there is a three-year statute of limitations on bringing a motion for contempt related to failure to pay child support. This three years starts on the date that the child support payments were due but not paid.

There are other actions the courts can take to enforce child support. These include:

  • Fines up to $1,000 and up to five days in jail. Usually, courts will avoid fining the parent, since that money could be used to pay past due child support
  • Sentence the parent to 120 hours of community service (or up to 240 for a third offense)
  • Force the parent to pay legal fees associated with enforcement of child support
  • Order liens, garnish wages and potentially go after things like retirement accounts or Social Security to make the payments

Other penalties could include an inability to get or renew a driver’s license as well as negative credit ratings due to failure to pay.