Paying a Child Support Order

Once the court orders you to pay child support, you must make the monthly child support payments starting on the date the judge orders. 

In every case ordering child support, the court will order that a wage assignment (garnishment) be issued and served.  The wage assignment tells your employer to take the support payments out your 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 wage assignment (sending the wage assignment to the employer) be "stayed" (put on hold). In this situation, the parents work out how child support will be paid and handle it between them.  

If the LCSA is involved, they have to agree to have the wage assignment "stayed."  The LCSA will most likely want an active wage assignment in place with the employer if they are involved in the case. They will also want all child support payments to go through the State Disbursement Unit.

Not paying child support can have very serious consequences.  If the court finds that you have the ability to pay support but are willfully not paying it, it can find you are in contempt of court. Being in contempt of court could mean jail time for you for not paying child support.  This enforcement tool is generally used only when all others have failed since it has such serious consequences.

IMPORTANT!!  If the reason you cannot pay your child support or are falling behind is you lost your job, your income went down, you went to jail, or some other important change happened, you need to ask the court to change your child support amount. DO NOT WAIT. Even if you lose your job, you will be responsible for the full amount of child support until the child support order is changed by the court.

Learn how to ask the court to change your support order.  OR contact your family law facilitator for help with your paperwork and understanding what you  should do.


Making sense of your child support order

It is possible that the amount of money you owe each month for the support of your children is more than the child support amount you thought you had to pay.  There can be many reasons.  For example:

  • You may have to pay for a share (usually half of the cost) of the child-care expenses of your child while the custodial parent is working or going to school. This amount can be high since child care can be very expensive.
  • You may also owe more because you fell behind in paying your child support. When you fall behind in your child support, you will have to keep paying your current amount of support AND an additional amount to begin to cover the back child support you owe. You will be charged 10 percent interest per year on any child support that you did not pay when it was due.
  • You may also be responsible for the costs of the mother's pregnancy, the child's health-care expenses, attorney fees, and other costs.
  • In addition, your employer may charge you $1.50 every time that the employer takes money from your paycheck to provide support.


Interest on past-due child support
If you do not pay all the child support you owe on time, you may find that you must pay interest on the balance due on top of the amount you owe. If the amount you owe is correct and it was not paid, you cannot do anything about the interest. Interest charges are added by law, and the judge cannot stop them.

Learn what you can do if you believe you did not owe the support (it was paid or incorrectly calculated).  You can also go to your family law facilitator's office for help.

Wage Assignments

After the court decides the amount of child and spousal support, the wage assignment tells the employer how much to deduct from each paycheck and instructs the employer to send the money to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU), which will send the money to the parent owed the support.

With a wage assignment, if you are regularly employed, the employer will take support payments directly out of your paycheck. Most support is paid this way, and federal and state law requires it in almost all child support cases. It is the employer’s responsibility to withhold the wages if there is a wage assignment. If you have other wage assignments in place, child support is deducted first, before other withholding orders. Spousal or partner support assignments come after child support wage assignments.

If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case, they will automatically issue the wage assignment and begin collecting from your paycheck through your employer.

If the LCSA is not involved in your case, the parent owed the support will prepare a wage assignment, submit it to the court for the judge's signature, and send it to your employer.

Click on a topic below to find out moe abut wage assignments:




How payments made by wage assignment work

  • Once the wage assignment is served on the employer, the employer has 10 days to start taking the money out from your next paycheck. 
  • If the local child support agency is involved in your case, the wage assignment is sent to your employer within 15 days of the date the LCSA finds the employer. The employer must deduct the support from your wages and send it to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU) within 10 days.

With a wage assignment that includes child support, employers must send the payments withheld to the SDU.  This means that the child support payments will come to the other parent from the SDU and not directly from your employer.  Getting 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 State Disbursement Unit (SDU) website. 
 

If you do NOT want your wages garnished

The court is required by law to issue wage assignments (garnishments) for the collection of child support. There are only a few situations where the court is allowed to not issue a wage assignment. Also, you can object to the wage assignment in only a few situations. For instance, if you and the other parent have an agreement that says there will be no wage assignment, it might be possible to ask the court to review your case.

Asking that the wage assignment be quashed ("set aside" or "canceled")
When a wage assignment (also called an "earnings assignment") order is sent to your employer, your employer will give you a blank Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450). You have 10 days from when you receive this form to ask for a hearing on the wage assignment. On the form, you will have a chance to explain why you do not want your wages garnished. When you go to court, the judge will make a decision.

The reasons you can ask for the wage assignment to be canceled are:

  • If you and the other parent have an agreement that you will pay your child support directly (and if the LCSA is involved, they agree too);
  • You are the wrong person (not the person ordered to pay support); 
                               OR
  • ALL of the following apply:
    • It would be in your children's best interests to cancel the wage assignment;
    • You have made payments on time for the last 12 months without a wage assignment;
    • You do not owe any back child support; AND
    • The wage assignments would cause an undue hardship.


Asking for service of the wage assignment to be "stayed" ("put on hold")
In some cases, you may be able to get a "stay" of (a "hold" on) the service of the wage assignment, which means that the wage assignment would not be sent to your employer and you would be able to pay on your own.  Read the Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (Form FL-455) for more information on the reasons you can request a stay. 

In general, you can ask for a "stay" of the service of the wage assignment:

  • If you have a history of making payments on time;
  • If the wage assignments would cause an undue hardship; or
  • If the reason you are behind is that your checks to the other person have been undeliverable for 6 months.


To ask the judge to stay the wage 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 with the other parent (AND the LCSA if they are involved in your case) for another payment arrangement.
  2. You will get a court hearing where you can ask the judge to stop service of the wage assignment.
  3. If the judge agrees with your request, he or she will sign the stay.  This stops the wage 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.

See the Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (form FL-455) for more information on "staying" a wage assignment.

If you do not follow your arrangement, the other parent (or the LCSA) can ask the court to end the stay on the wage assignment and ask the employer to start garnishing your wages.

If you disagree with the amount on the wage assignment

When a wage assignment order is sent to your employer, your employer will give you a blank Request for Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450). You have 10 days from when you receive this form to ask for a hearing on the wage assignment. On the form, you will have a chance to explain why you think the amount on the wage assignment is wrong. When you go to court, the judge will make a decision.

Remember that this is not the form you use to ask for a change in the amount of your child support. This form is used only because you believe that something is wrong with the wage assignment, like the amount that will be taken from your paycheck is the wrong amount.  Click if you want to change the amount of child support you have to pay.


If you cannot afford to pay the amount on the wage assignment

If your employer is taking too much out of your paycheck and you cannot afford it, there may be something you can do.  It depends on what amounts are being taken from your check.  

If your employer is just taking out the monthly child support that the court ordered (without anything added to it), then there is probably nothing you can do except go to court to ask for your child support to be changed. BUT if you just had a court hearing and that is the order the judge made and nothing has changed since the hearing, you probably will not succeed since it is the amount the judge ruled you have to pay.

If your employer is taking out 50 percent or more of your paycheck or an amount much higher than what your monthly child support order is, you probably have a past-due child support balance.  In this case, there may be something you can do.  The court (and the LCSA if they are involved in your case) has a little more flexibility in how much money you have to pay every month to start paying off your back child support.

First, contact the local child support agency (LCSA) if they are involved in your case, to see if you can make arrangements to lower your payments.  If that does not work, you can file court forms to ask a judge to set a payment that you can afford. Remember, this payment is for the back child support.

Talk to your family law facilitator to learn what court forms would be best in your case. 

If you decide to do it on your own, the procedures may vary from county to county, but in general, you will have to follow these steps:

1. Fill out your court forms
Fill out:

You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) for help filling out Form FL-300.  On your Form FL-300, check box 8 ("Other Relief") and write in "Set monthly liquidation payment of $ (write in a reasonable amount)."  The "liquidation payment" is the payment that goes toward your back child support.

It is very important that you fill out Form FL-150 very carefully and completely. That form will show the court why you cannot afford the high rate of payments the wage assignment is asking for to pay off your balance.

2. Have your forms reviewed  
Ask your court's family law facilitator to review your paperwork. The faciltator 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 child's other parent. The original is for the court. If the LCSA is involved in your case, make 3 copies.

4. File your forms with the court clerk   
Turn in your forms to the court clerk. You may have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.  If the LCSA is involved in your case and you are only asking the court to deal with your child support issues, you will not have to pay a filing fee.

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 the other parent and the LCSA 
Have someone at least 18 (NOT you) serve the other parent and the LCSA by mail, at least 16 court days before the hearing plus 5 days for mailing.  

Find more information about "service."

7. File your proof of service 
Have your server fill out 2 Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) forms – 1 for the LCSA and 1 for the other parent.  You must then file the Proofs of Service with the court.  It is very important that your server fills out the Proofs of Service correctly. If possible, have your family law facilitator review this paperwork to make sure it was filled out properly.

8. Go to your court hearing.
Go to your court hearing, and take a copy of all your papers and your Proofs 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 you will have to pay toward your back child support.  Remember, this amount is in addition to the regular monthly child support payments that you were already ordered to pay.

If you want to ask for the wage assignment to be terminated (ended)

In some situations, you may be able to ask the court to end a wage or earnings assignment. If you are paying child support for a child or children that has passed away or emancipated, or if the child support agency or your employer has not been able to send payment to your child's other parent for over 6 months because the other parent did not let them know of a change of address, you can request on your own to end the wage assignment. Fill out and file an Ex Parte Application to Issue, Modify, or Terminate an Earnings Assignment Order (Form FL-430).

Ask your court's family law facilitator to find out if you can use this form, and for help filling it out and knowing what to do next.

Disputing Arrears (Back Child Support)

If you do not agree with the total amount of back support (arrears) that the local child support agency (LCSA) says you owe – or you are concerned that the LCSA is not handling the collection and distribution of your child support correctly – you can ask them for something called an "accounting." The LCSA is required by law to give you an accounting of the collections and distributions in your case.

If, after the accounting, you still do not agree with what the LCSA claims you owe in child support, you can go to court to ask for a "determination of arrears."

 If you need help with any of these issues, contact the family law facilitator in your county.

Asking for a determination of arrears

You can ask the court to make a "determination of the arrearages owed" (total amount unpaid) if you believe that you have paid more than the LCSA is crediting to you. You will need to prove the payments you made.

If you decide to do ask for this determination 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) for help filling out 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 box 8 ("Other Relief") and write in "Determine arrears."  If you agree you do owe something and want the court to set up a monthly payment, add "set monthly payment of $ (write in an amount you can afford)" and also fill out an Income and Expense Declaration (Form –FL-150).  Note that you have other options and forms you can use to do this. Ask your family law facilitator if you would like to know your other options.

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 child's other parent. The original is for the court. If the LCSA is involved in your case, make 3 copies.

4. File your forms with the court clerk   
Turn in your forms to the court clerk. If the LCSA is involved with your case and you are only asking the court about support issues, you will not have to pay a filing fee. If the LCSA is not involved in your case, you may have to pay a filing fee.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 the other parent (and the LCSA if involved) 
Have someone at least 18 (NOT you) serve the other parent (and the LCSA if involved) by mail, at least 16 court days before the hearing plus 5 days for mailing.  Find more information about "service." 

7. File your proof of service 
Have your server fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) or other Proof of Service form for the other parent (and 1 for the LCSA if involved). You must then file the Proof (or Proofs) of Service with the court. It is very important your server fills out each Proof of Service correctly. If possible, have your family law facilitator review it to make sure it was filled out properly.

8. Go to your court hearing
Go to your court hearing and take a copy of all your papers, including any proof of support payments and your Proof (or Proofs) 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 you owe in arrears (back child support).  If you owe anything, ask the judge to set up a monthly amount to start paying this money off, in addition to the regular monthly child support payments.

How the LCSA Can Collect Child Support When You Fall Behind in Payments

The local child support agency (LCSA) is there to help parents and children with their support obligations. When a parent is late or fails to pay court-ordered support payments, the local child support agency can do 1 or more of these to collect support:

  • Credit reporting: Not paying child support on time can affect a person’s credit rating. The local child support agency will report each child support payment to major credit reporting agencies. They also report the failure to pay child support.
  • 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 child 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 parent who owes back support. When the property is sold, past-due support may be paid out of the proceeds from the sale.
  • Suspending licenses: The LCSA can request that any permanent, state-issued license be suspended or withheld to collect back child support. The State Licensing Match System is used to match parents who owe child 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 behind 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, safe deposit boxes, vehicles, and even boats, to collect child support.
  • Income tax intercepts: The Internal Revenue Service and the Franchise Tax Board can also intercept tax refunds to pay back child 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 back child support.
  • Disability Insurance Benefit Intercept System: The LCSA can take part of state disability payments owed to parents who owe child support to pay both current and back child 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 back child support.
  • Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board match system: Lump sum workers' compensation awards can be taken to pay back child support.
  • Lottery intercept: Lottery winnings can be taken to pay both current and back child support.

If the LCSA takes any action on this list, you should start by contacting them to see what they require in order to stop this action (if they can stop it).  If they cannot stop it or if you cannot meet their requirements, you can ask your family law facilitator for help. 

The family law facilitator can help you understand what is happening, if there is anything you can do to stop it, and, if so, can help you figure out what to do.

           
If your driver's or other license is suspended

If you do not pay court-ordered child support, your license can be suspended. Your driver's license, as well as professional licenses like a contractor's license, a license to practice law or medicine, and others, can all be suspended for failure to pay child support.

To get your license back, contact the local child support agency (LCSA). They will probably ask you to make some payment toward your back child support (your arrears), and if you can do it, they may be able to release your license, as long as you keep making payments.   

If that does not work, you can ask the judge to order the local child support agency to give you your license back.  But you will probably have to set up a payment plan to get and keep your license. 

To ask the court to release your license, file a Notice of Motion for Judicial Review of License Denial (Form FL-670). This form asks the court to consider giving you back your license. Filing this form does NOT change how much child support you must pay. Find more information on changing your support order.

You can also talk to the family law facilitator in your county for help.

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