Collecting a Spousal/Partner Support Order

Getting Spousal or Partner Support After a Court Order

After you get a spousal or partner support court order, your former spouse or domestic partner must start making support payments to you. The court order will include a start date for the spousal or partner support.

In every case ordering spousal or partner support, the court will order that an earnings assignment (also called “wage garnishment”) be issued and served. The earnings assignment tells the employer of the person ordered to pay support to take the support payments out that person’s wages.

When the local child support agency (LCSA) is NOT involved, both parents can agree that payments can be made in some other way and can ask that service of the earnings assignment (sending the earnings assignment to the employer) be “stayed” (put on hold). In this situation, the former spouses/partners work out how spousal or partner support will be paid and handle it between them.

In some cases, the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved. The LCSA is only involved if there is also a child support order in your case and 1 of you asked them for help enforcing all support payments (spousal/partner and child support). The LCSA may also be involved if 1 of you gets public assistance for your children (like CalWORKS). If the LCSA is involved, the LCSA has to agree to have the wage assignment “stayed.” If the spouse/partner getting child and spousal or partner support is NOT getting public assistance, the LCSA will probably agree to both of you working the payments out between you.

  • Read the Child Support section of this Online Self-Help Center for more information on how to handle your case when the LCSA is involved.

Getting an Earnings Assignment (Wage Garnishment)

After the court decides the amount of spousal or partner support, the earnings assignment (also called “wage garnishment”) tells the employer how much to deduct from each paycheck and where to send the payment.   With an earnings assignment, if the spouse/partner ordered to pay support is regularly employed, the employer will take support payments directly out of his or her paycheck. Most support is paid this way, and federal and state laws require it in almost all support cases. It is the employer’s responsibility to withhold the wages if there is an earnings assignment. If your former spouse or partner also has a child support earnings assignment in place, child support is deducted first. Spousal or partner support assignments come after child support earnings assignments.

If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case, the LCSA will automatically issue an earnings assignment and begin collecting from your former spouse or domestic partner’s employer.

If the LCSA is NOT involved in your case, and the court clerk or staff has not prepared an order and earnings assignment after the support court hearing, you will have to prepare the earnings assignment yourself.

To prepare and get an earnings assignment:

1. After you have your court hearing and the judge makes a support order, fill out:

  • Findings and Order After Hearing (Form FL-340);
  • Any needed attachments that say what the judge ordered, like the Spousal, Partner, or Family Support Order Attachment (Form FL-343); and
  • Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (Form FL-435),    
         OR
    Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support (Form FL-195) if the court order includes child support as well as spousal/partner support. For Form FL-195, you can use Instructions to Complete Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support (Form FL-196).
Important:  When filling out Form FL-435 or Form FL-195, make sure to only write the last 4 digits of the social security number of the person ordered to pay support – the law requires it to protect their privacy.

2. Have your forms reviewed
Ask your court’s family law facilitator to review your paperwork. The facilitator can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case.

3. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your spouse or partner. The original is for the court. If the LCSA is involved in your case, make 3 copies.

4. Turn in your forms to the clerk to get the judge’s signature
Give your Findings and Order After Hearing (Form FL-340) with attachments (such as Form FL-343) and the Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (Form FL-435) or Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support (Form FL-195) with the copies, to the clerk at the court. The clerk will give them to the judge for him or her to sign. Ask which clerk you should leave your forms with if you are not sure. And find out when you should return to pick up your paperwork. Your court may require you to send your forms to the other side first, to get your former spouse or partner to sign off on the paperwork, before you turn it in to the judge. Ask your family law facilitator for help with this.

5. Pick up your forms after the judge signs them
The judge will sign your Findings and Order After Hearing and will issue your earnings assignment (also called “wage garnishment”).

6. File your order and your earnings assignment
If your forms are not already filed (stamped “Filed” by the clerk), turn them in to the clerk to have them stamped. The clerk will keep the original and return the copies to you.

7. Serve the earnings assignment on your former spouse or domestic partner’s employer
Have someone 18 or older, NOT you, mail a copy of the wage assignment, along with a BLANK copy of the Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450), to the employer. Call the employer to find out where you should send the earnings assignment.

8. Serve a copy of the spousal or partner support order and the earnings assignment on your former spouse or domestic partner
Have someone 18 or older, NOT you, mail a copy of the Findings and Order After Hearing and the earnings assignment to your former spouse or domestic partner. Have a copy served on the LCSA if they are involved in your case.

9. Have the server fill out the proofs of service
Have the person who mails the earnings assignment to the employer and the order and assignment to your former spouse or domestic partner complete 2 Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) forms, 1 for the employer and 1 for your former spouse or domestic partner.

10. File your proofs of service
File each Proof of Service with the court clerk. Keep a copy for yourself.

If you need help with any of these forms, talk to your family law facilitator.
 

How Payments Made by Earnings Assignment Work

  • Once the earnings assignment (also called “wage garnishment”) is served on the employer, the employer has 10 days to start taking the money out of the next paycheck of the person ordered to pay the support.
  • If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case, the earnings assignment is sent to the employer within 15 days of the date the LCSA finds the employer. The employer must deduct the support from the wages and send it to the LCSA within 10 days.

If the earnings assignment is for spousal or partner support only, your former spouse or domestic partner’s employer will forward the payments to you directly.

When an earnings assignment includes child support and spousal or partner support, employers must send the payments withheld to the California State Disbursement Unit (SDU). This means that the spousal or partner support (with the child support) payments will probably come to you from the SDU and not directly from the employer (or from the LCSA if they are involved in your case). Getting your payments through the SDU does NOT mean that you have a case with the local child support agency.

If you have any questions about the SDU, contact the SDU directly at 1-866-901-3212 or go to the California State Disbursement Unit's website.


If the employer does not send the spousal or partner support
If the employer does not send you the money (either directly, or if there is also child support, through the SDU) after they receive the earnings assignment, you can write a letter to the employer letting them know they must honor the eanings assignment and that the time they have to start taking the money out has run out. If after a reasonable time you still do not get the payments, there may be other legal steps you can take, like taking the employer to court.

When an employer does not withhold the support amount from an employee’s wages after receiving a valid earnings assignment, the law says the employer could be responsible for the support payments as well. This should be your last resort. Talk to your family law facilitator for help.

If you have trouble getting the employer to make the deductions for the earnings assignment, you may want to open a case with the local child support agency. They will help you as long as you also have a child support order. Their services are free of charge.

Payment Arrangements Between the Parties: “Stay” of the Earnings Assignment

In every case ordering spousal or partner and/or child support, the court will issue an earnings assignment. But in some cases you can ask the judge to let you arrange for payment between the 2 of you instead of going through an earnings assignment.

This can be done 2 ways:

  1.  Neither spouse/partner mails a copy of the earnings assignment to the employer and the person ordered to pay support just pays it directly to the other person;
                            OR
  2. The court orders that the earnings assignment is ”stayed,” which means that the earnings assignment will be prepared and issued by the judge but will not be served on the employer as long as the support payments are being made on time and properly.

To ask the judge to stay the earnings assignment:

1. Fill out the Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (Form FL-455). On this form, mark the box that explains you have an agreement for another payment arrangement.

2. You will get a court hearing where you can ask the judge to stop service of the earnings assignment.

3. If the judge agrees with your request, he or she will sign the stay. This stops the earnings assignment from taking effect.

4. If you get a stay, it is very important you both keep good records of all the payments, in case there are any issues in the future.

Read the Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (Form FL-455) for more information on “staying” an earnings assignment. If the person ordered to pay support does not follow your arrangement, you can ask the court to end the stay on the earnings assignment.

Ending a “stay” on the earnings assignment

If the person ordered to pay support has fallen behind in payments, you can ask the court to let you serve the earnings assignment on the employer. To do this:

1. Fill out the Application for Termination of Stay (page 2 of Form FL-455) and turn it in to the court for the judge to sign. In some cases, you may have a court hearing for the judge to make the decision.

2. Once the court signs the order, serve the earnings assignment on the employer.

3. The employer will begin taking the support payments out of the person’s wages.

Falling Behind in Payments

The steps you take when your former spouse or domestic partner ordered to pay support falls behind depends on whether the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case.


If Your Former Spouse or Domestic Partner Falls Behind in Payments and the LCSA Is NOT Involved

If someone falls behind in paying support and does not already have their wages withheld to pay support, you can ask the court to issue an earnings assignment for you to serve on the other person’s employer to withhold support from wages.

If you had an agreement that the person ordered to pay support would pay on his or her own (without a wage assignment) and you had the wage assignment “stayed,” you can ask the court to reinstate the earnings assignment. Learn how to reinstate the earnings assignment.

If your former spouse/partner owes past due spousal or partner support (called “arrears”) for the time he or she did not pay you, you can ask that the earnings assignment include an amount to pay off the past due support. And past due spousal or partner support accumulates interest, at a rate of 10 percent per year, so the total owed can grow very fast. Ask your family law facilitator how to do this.


Determination of arrears
You may also need the court to make a “determination of the arrearages owed” (total amount unpaid) if it is not clear how much back spousal or partner support you are owed. When you do this, you can also ask the court to set a monthly payment on the amount unpaid that is in addition to the base monthly spousal or partner support amount in the order.

  • Before you go through all these steps, think about whether it is worth it for you to ask the local child support agency (LCSA) to help you collect your spousal or partner support. Remember, they can help you if you also have a child support order or need help setting one up. The LCSA can take over this process and help you get a new earnings assignment that orders your former spouse or domestic partner to start paying off the back spousal or partner support (and child support) owed. 

If you decide to do it on your own, follow these steps:

1. Fill out your court forms
Fill out:

  • Request for Order (Form FL-300). You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) to learn how. (Ask your family law facilitator if you need to check the box for “Court Order” and item 4 on Form FL-300),
  • Application to Determine Arrearages (Form FL-490),
  • Declaration of Payment History (Form FL-420), and
  • Payment History Attachment (Form FL-421) to show the overdue support amounts.

On your Form FL-300, check the box at item 8 (“Other Relief”) and write in “Determine arrears and set monthly liquidation payment of $ (write in a reasonable amount).” The “liquidation payment” is the payment that goes toward your back spousal or partner support.

2. Have your forms reviewed
Ask your court’s family law facilitator to review your paperwork. The facilitator can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case.

3. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your former spouse or domestic partner. The original is for the court.

4. File your forms with the court clerk
Turn in your forms to the court clerk. The clerk will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.” You may have to pay a filing fee. Find out how much the fee for filing a Request for Order is. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

5. Get your court date
The clerk will give you a court date and write it on your Form FL-300.

6. Serve your papers on your former spouse or domestic partner
Serve your spouse or partner with a copy of your papers and a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) and blank Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150) before your court date. Remember, someone else — NOT you — must serve the papers. 

  • If you filed a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with the box for "Court Order" and Item 4 checked, your papers MUST be served in person at least 16 days before your court date.
  • If you filed a  Request for Order (Form FL-300) with NO check marks on the box for "Court Order" nor on Item 4, you can probably serve your pouse or partner by mail. But if you serve by mail, you must do it at least 16 court days before the hearing plus 5 calendar days for mailing.

Get more information about “service.” Look at the front of Form FL-300 to see if the court ordered you to serve any other documents.

7. File your proof of service
Have your server fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335). You must then file the Proof of Service with the court. It is very important your server fills out the Proof of Service correctly. If possible, have your family law facilitator review it to make sure it was filled out properly.

If the papers were served in person, your server has to fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330).

8. Go to your court hearing
Go to your court hearing and take a copy of all your papers and your Proof of Service. Read Going to Court to find out how to prepare for your court hearing.

At your hearing, the judge will determine how much your former spouse or domestic partner owes you in arrears (back spousal or partner support). Ask the judge to set up a monthly amount for your former spouse or domestic partner to start paying this money off, in addition to the regular monthly spousal or partner support payments.  Once the judge makes an order, you are ready to get a new earnings assignment with the spousal or partner support amount plus the “liquidation payment” (the installment payment of the back spousal or partner support you are owed).

Get instructions on how to get this new earnings assignment.

 

If Your Former Spouse or Domestic Partner Falls Behind in Payments and the LCSA Is Involved

If someone falls behind in their spousal or partner support payments and the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in the case, the LCSA can:

  • Put a lien on all real property and bank accounts that person owns in California;
  • Intercept any tax refunds or unemployment, disability, or workers’ compensation benefits; and
  • Suspend any licenses, including driver’s, business, professional, and sporting licenses.

Get more detailed information about what the LCSA can do to help collect any spousal or partner support you are owed.

 

Getting Help to Collect Spousal or Partner Support

As long as you have a child support order (with or without a spousal or partner support order), you can contact the local child support agency in your county and ask them to get involved in the case. They will collect the payments and send them to you. Their services are free of charge.

How the local child support agency can help collect payments
The local child support agency (LCSA) is there to help people with their support obligations. They have many ways to find someone who changes jobs a lot, they can take someone’s income tax refund, they can freeze someone’s bank account, and they can suspend someone’s driver’s license or other professional license (like a contractor’s license or a lawyer’s license to practice).

They can also file papers on behalf of either spouse or partner to change the amount of support when there has been a change in income, family status, or something else that would affect the support amount.

If someone is late or fails to pay court-ordered support payments, the local child support agency can do one or more of these things to collect support:

  • Credit reporting: Not paying support on time can affect a person’s credit rating. The local child support agency (LCSA) will report each past due support payment to major credit reporting agencies.
  • Passport denial:  Anytime a person owes more than $2,500 in back child support, the U.S. State Department will not issue or renew a passport until all past-due support payments (also called “arrears”) are paid. If your passport application is denied, you will have to make arrangements with the local child support agency to make your support current before traveling outside the United States. You will also have to make arrangements if your passport needs to be renewed while you are already out of the United States.
  • Property liens: The LCSA will file a lien against the real property (like a house or land) of a person who owes past due support. When the property is sold, past due support may be paid out of the proceeds from the property sale.
  • Suspending licenses: The LCSA can request that any permanent, state-issued licenses be suspended or withheld to collect past due support. The State Licensing Match System is used to match parents who owe support with business, professional, and driver’s licenses. These licenses include those for cosmetologists, contractors, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and more.
  • Franchise Tax Board Child Support Collection Program: The LCSA must let the Franchise Tax Board know anytime a person is more than $100 and 60 days past due in paying support. The Franchise Tax Board can take funds from bank accounts, rental incomes, royalties, dividends, and commissions. The Franchise Tax Board can also issue an Earnings Withholding Order and take real and personal property, such as vacant land, cash, property held in safe deposit boxes, vehicles, and even boats, to collect support.
  • Income tax refund intercepts: The Internal Revenue Service and the Franchise Tax Board can also intercept tax refunds to pay past due support.
  • Financial Institution Data Match: Many banks, savings and loan institutions, and credit unions in California and the United States report the assets they hold. These assets can be taken for payment of current and past due support.
  • Disability Insurance Benefit Intercept System: The LCSA can take part of state disability payments owed to parents who owe support to pay both current and past due support.
  • Unemployment Insurance Benefit Intercept System: Part of state unemployment benefit payments due to the noncustodial parent can be taken to pay both current and past due support.
  • Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board match system: Lump sum workers’ compensation awards can be taken to pay past due support.
  • Lottery intercept: Lottery winnings can be taken to pay both current and past due support.


How the local child support agency can help find someone who owes support

The LCSA has access to several sources to get this information, like:

  • California New Employee Registry: A database of the Employment Development Department. Employers in California must report the names, addresses, and social security numbers of all new employees. By checking this registry, the local child support agency may be able to locate parents to collect support. In California, the names and address of independent contractors must also be reported to the Employment Development Department. This registry helps locate self-employed noncustodial parents.
  • Federal Parent Locator Service: Provides the local child support agency with information about parents ordered to pay support anywhere in the United States. This service is made up of the National Directory of New Hires and the Federal Case Registry. The National Directory of New Hires is the central database of employment, unemployment insurance, and wage information from every state. Employers anywhere in the nation must report every new employee’s name, address, and social security number. The Federal Case Registry lists support cases and orders from every state.
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