Although child support is the legal obligation of a non-custodial parent, it often goes unpaid. As the back child support amount increases, the custodial parent can take action to enforce the child support order. This action begins with administrative orders from the Georgia Division of Child Support Services and ends with a petition for contempt of court which, if successful, allows the court to sanction, fine and jail the non-custodial parent.
Georgia Law and Child Support
Any divorce action involving the custody of minor children will involve a marital settlement agreement as well as child support order. Georgia's child support enforcement law is set out in Title 19, Chapter 6 of the 2010 Georgia Statutes. The support order is a binding obligation on the non-custodial parent to make regular child support payments according to the state's guidelines.
Georgia Child Support Services
The Division of Child Support Services, a division of the Georgia Department of Human Services, assists custodial parents in the collection of past-due child support. DCSS collects child support from the non-custodial parent and distributes its collections to the custodial parent according to the child support order incorporated into the divorce decree. DCSS helps enforce a child support order through various means, including garnishment of paychecks or government benefits, interception of tax refunds and lottery winnings, suspension or revocation of driver's licenses, or the denial of a passport application. If these actions fail to resolve the arrearage, the custodial parent may take further action by filing a petition for contempt of court.
A petition for contempt is a request to a court to find that someone has failed to obey a court order, such as a child support order. It is a serious legal action that will result in a public hearing and, if granted, enforcement by the court system, including possible fines and jail sentences for the delinquent non-custodial parent.
Filing a Contempt Petition
You must file a petition for contempt in the county where the non-custodial parent resides. The blank petition form is available from the clerk of court; many courts make these forms available for download on their websites. Fill in the form with the required information, including your name as the petitioner and the non-custodial parent's name as the respondent. You will also need the divorce case number and date and a copy of the final decree and child support order as evidence attachments. The petition for contempt form will have check boxes; for child support enforcement, you check the appropriate box and enter the amount of child support required and the amount of the arrearage.
Verification and Rule Nisi
Georgia court procedure also requires that a contempt petition is verified. You verify a petition by swearing to the facts, as stated in the petition, under oath before a court clerk or notary public and then sign the verification form. After you file the petition for contempt and verification, the clerk will issue a "rule nisi," which is an order for the petitioner and respondent to appear before a judge for a hearing at a specified time and date.
You must have the petition for contempt, verification and rule nisi served on the respondent, either by certified private process server or a law-enforcement agency. Georgia law and court rules require service within a limited time; if you fail to have the petition served, you may file for an extension of this deadline. After service has been accomplished, you will receive a return of service which you then must file along with a certificate of service with the clerk.
Hearing and Final Order
You must attend the hearing scheduled by the clerk for the petition of contempt. A judge or magistrate will hear argument from the petitioner and the respondent then rule on the petition. The clerk of court will draw up and have signed a final order on the petition which, if granted, will result in fines, jail time or garnishment of wages to satisfy the child support arrearage.