Collecting a Child Support Order

Getting Child Support After a Court Order

After you get a child support court order, the other parent must start making child support payments to you. The court order will include a start date for the child support.

In every case ordering child support, the court will order that a wage assignment (garnishment) be issued and served.  The wage 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 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, the LCSA has to agree to have the wage assignment "stayed."  Generally, if a case is open in the LCSA, the agency will keep an active wage assignment in place with the current employer.

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


Getting a wage assignment

After the court decides the amount of child or spousal support, the wage assignment tells the employer how much to deduct from each paycheck and where to send the payment.

With a wage assignment, if the parent 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 child support cases.  It is the employer's responsibility to withhold the wages if there is a wage assignment.   If the parent has 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, the LCSA will automatically issue a wage assignment and begin collecting from the other parent's employer. 

If the LCSA is NOT involved in your case and if the court clerk or staff has not prepared an order and wage assignment after the child support hearing, you will have to prepare the wage assignment yourself.  Click on any topic below to learn more:

Preparing a wage assignment
How payments made by wage assignment work

If the employer does NOT send the child support

Payment arrangements between the parents: "Stay" of the wage assignment
Ending a "stay" on the wage assignment


Preparing a wage assignment

1. After your court hearing and the judge's order about support, fill out your court foms
Fill out:

  • Findings and Order After Hearing (Form FL-340) plus any needed attachments that say what the judge ordered.

  • Income Withholding for Support (Form FL-195) using the instructions on Form FL-196.   When filling out this form, 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.

  • Note that all child support payments made by wage assignment must be made payable through the State Disbursement Unit (SDU). On page 2 of Form FL-195, you will need to enter the SDU's address (available on their website) on the line that says "send check to." The employer will NOT to honor a wage assignment that is not payable through the SDU.

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.

Exception: Make an extra copy of the Income Withholding for Support (Form FL-195) so you have a total of 3 – one for you, one for the other parent, and one for the employer that will be withholding child support from the wages.

4. Turn in your forms to the clerk to get the judge’s signature
Give your Findings and Order After Hearing (Form  FL-340), the Income Withholding for Support (Form FL-195), and 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.  Find out when you should return to pick up the paperwork.

5. Pick up your forms after the judge signs them
The judge will sign your Findings and Order After Hearing and will issue your wage assignment.

6. File your order and your wage 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 wage assignment on the other parent's employer 
Have someone 18 or older, NOT you, mail a copy of the Income Withholding for Support (Form FL-195) 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 wage assignment.

8. Serve a copy of the child support order and the wage assignment on the other parent
Have someone 18 or older, NOT you, mail a copy of the Findings and Order After Hearing and one of the copies of the wage assignment, to the other parent. 

9. Have the server fill out the proofs of service
Have the person who mails the wage assignment to the employer and the order and assignment to the other parent, complete 2 Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) forms, 1 for the employer and 1 for the other parent, and return them to you.

10. File your proofs of service
Take both proofs of service and file them 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 wage assignment work

  • Once the wage assignment is served on the employer, the employer has 10 days to start taking the money out from the next paycheck of the person ordered to pay the support.
     
  • If the local child support agency is involved in your case, the wage 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 State Disbursement Unit (SDU) within 10 days.

With a wage assignment that includes child support, employers must send the payments withheld to the California State Disbursement Unit (SDU).  This means that 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 website for the State Disbursement Unit (SDU).


If the employer does NOT send the child support

If the employer does not send you the money (through the SDU) after they receive the wage assignment, you can write a letter to the employer letting them know they must honor the wage 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 a valid wage 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 with the employer making the deductions for the wage assignment, you may want to open a case with the local child support agency.  They will help you as long as you have a child support order (even if you also need help with a spousal or partner support order). Their services are free of charge. 


Payment arrangements between the parents: "Stay" of the wage assignment

In every case ordering child or spousal/partner support, the court will issue a wage 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 a wage assignment.  To do this, the wage assignment is "stayed," which means that the wage 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 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 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.

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

If the person ordered to pay support does not follow your arrangement, you can ask the court to end the stay on the wage assignment.

Ending a "stay" on the wage assignment

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

  1. Fill out the Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (Form FL-455), checking the box for "Termination of Stay" at the top of the form and filling out the Application for Termination of Stay on page 2. Then 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 wage assignment on the employer.
  3. The employer will begin taking the support payments out of the person's wages.

Falling behind in payments

If the other parent 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 order to issue a wage assignment for you to serve on the other person's employer to withhold support from wages. Click if the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case.

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 to reinstate the wage assignment.  To find out how to reinstate the wage assignment, read the instructions on ending a "stay" of the wage assignment.

If the person ordered to pay suport has accumulated back child support (called "arrears") for the time he or she did not pay you, you can ask that the wage assignment include an amount to pay off the past-due support.  And past-due child 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 (back child support)

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 child 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 child 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 child support.  They can take over this process and help you get a new wage assignment that orders the other parent to start paying off the back child support owed. 

If you decide to do ask the court to determine the arrears on your own, follow these steps:

1. Fill out the 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 and set monthly payment of $ (write in a reasonable amount)."

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. 

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

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

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 the other parent owes you in arrears (back child support).  Ask the judge to set up a monthly amount for the other parent to start paying this money off, in addition to the regular monthly child support payments.

Once the judge makes an order, you are ready to get a new wage assignment with the child support amount plus the "liquidation payment" (the installment payment of the back child support you are owed).  Learn how to get this new wage assignment.

If the other parent falls behind in payments and the LCSA is involved

If someone falls behind in their child 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, unemployment, disability, or worker's compensation benefits; 
  • Suspend any licenses, including driver’s, business, commercial, and other professional licenses; and
  • Enforce the support through other legal means available to the local child support agency.

Getting help to collect child 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 (LCSA) 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 parents and children with their support obligations. They have many ways to find someone who changes jobs a lot, they can take someone’s income tax return, 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 parent 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.

When a parent is late or fails to pay court ordered support payments, the local child support agency can do one 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.


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 child support. In California, the names and addresses 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 child 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 child support cases and orders from every state.

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