California Divorce Law: Motion for the Determination of Arrearages

by Erika Johansen

When couples divorce, the court often compels one parent to contribute child support. If you fail to pay your required support in California, the state will hold you liable for the amount past due, called arrears. The other parent can make a Motion for Determination of Arrearages, which asks the court to determine how much you owe. If you can't pay, California offers several options for dealing with arrears.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More


Under California law, each biological parent must support the child financially. An award of required child support is a standard part of the California divorce decree. Child support is intended to cover the child's ordinary living expenses, such as food, clothing and basic medical expenses, and usually continues until the child either reaches either the age of majority or becomes emancipated.

Determination of Arrearages

The Motion for Determination of Arrearages is intended to settle disputes about unpaid child support. Either party can move for a determination of arrearages by submitting a form known as the Application to Determine Arrearages to the court. After the court reviews the form, it may either simply make an order for one party to pay, or, if a large amount of money is in dispute, hold a hearing to decide the issue. After this hearing, the court will determine the exact amount owed and order the party to pay.

Consequences of Delinquency

Failure to pay child support can carry many negative consequences in California. Once the court determines the exact amount of child support arrears, you owe not only that amount, but interest of 10 percent a year. Credit reporting agencies will be informed and the delinquency will adversely affect your credit. Moreover, the State of California has the power to withhold benefits, such as state pension plan distributions, driver's licenses and state-issued unemployment and disability payments, until you pay your back-owed child support. The state can even bring you up on criminal contempt charges for failure to follow a court order.

Dealing with Arrearages

Depending your situation, there may be many options available to deal with child support arrears. You might ask the court to recalculate your support owed. If possible, you can negotiate directly with the other parent to reduce the amount owed or modify the payment schedule. All such arrangements between the parents must also be approved by the court. If the child received public assistance from the county during the time you failed to pay, some parents may be able to reduce their debt by negotiating directly with the county under the Compromise of Arrears program. If your situation forces you to declare Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will still be liable for child support arrears; however, under California law, if you are able to pay off the support within the next five years, the court may forgive any interest owed on the arrears.