Since January 1994, the United States government has mandated that all child support orders include provisions for payment through income withholding or wage garnishment. It’s a highly effective means of collection, but when the non-custodial parent is self-employed or chronically unemployed, wage garnishment can prove impossible. If you suspect your child’s other parent isn’t going to be honorable about voluntarily sending you child support checks, you can address this at the time the court issues your child support order.
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The federal Child Support Enforcement Program requires every state to maintain a child support collection unit. When a court orders wage garnishment for child support, these units automatically become involved. They act as clearinghouses, collecting the money from non-custodial parents’ employers, then sending it on to the custodial parent. If you don’t trust your ex to consistently make payments of his own accord, you can sign up with your state’s services voluntarily, even without a wage garnishment order. Your ex will be obligated to submit his child support payments to the collection unit. The unit will keep track of his payments. When and if your ex falls behind, the unit will automatically initiate collection efforts against him, ranging from intercepting his tax refunds to freezing his bank accounts and placing liens against his property, depending on how many payments he’s missed and how far behind he’s fallen.
At the time you receive your child support order, you can ask the court to authorize automatic withdrawals from your ex’s bank account for his payments. This also usually involves going through your state’s child support collection unit. His bank will transfer his payments to the collection unit and the unit will send them to you, just as if he voluntarily submitted checks. If the court agrees to issue such an order, your ex will have to sign an authorization allowing his bank to do this. If he does not deposit funds in the account to cover the withdrawals, the collection unit will begin taking enforcement measures for payment.
Other Sources of Income
If your ex works on a commission basis, the court will order income withholding from his checks just as if they were regular paychecks. The court will also withhold child support from unemployment benefits, retirement benefits and most disability payments. However, you may have to take your ex back to court to enforce these measures. Some courts will not order these types of arrangements unless and until a non-custodial parent has fallen behind.
You can also ask the court for a sort of "insurance policy" if your ex doesn’t hold a conventional job and you’re concerned that he won’t pay regularly. Some states, such as Ohio, will order him to post a cash bond with the court. If he doesn’t pay voluntarily, the court will deduct his child support from the bond. Other states will allow the same sort of arrangement using retirement accounts or other investment accounts as collateral. If he doesn’t pay, the court will order your child support to be paid from these sources. Because he probably won't want this to happen, he may keep current with his payments.