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Arizona child support: Enforcement options for nonpayment

The state retains numerous enforcement options to encourage Arizona parents to fulfil their court-ordered child support obligations.

As of 2014, there were 22.1 million children under 21-years-old living with only one parent while their other parent lives elsewhere, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In such situations, family law courts in Arizona are required to order the non-custodial parents to make monthly payments for the support of their children and are required to issue Income Withholding Orders to be sent to the paying parent’s employer. While most parents fulfil this court-ordered financial obligation, there are some cases where parents may fall behind or simply choose not to pay. In order to encourage people to make their child support payments, the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s Division of Child Support Services, or DCSS, has several enforcement options for cases in which DCSS was involved in establishing child support or when a child support recipient requests enforcement services.

Income withholding orders

When child support awards are ordered, the DCSS sends administrative income withholding orders to the non-custodial parents’ employers. At the direction of these orders, parents’ employers are required to withhold the monthly amount for their payments from their earnings. In cases when parents fall behind on child support, these orders may be adjusted to collect an additional amount to apply toward their past due balance. In cases where DCSS is not involved, the Court’s Family Support Center forwards the Income Withholding Order to the payer’s employer.

Tax refund and cash prize offsets

If people owe $50 or more in past due child support, the DCSS may intercept their state income tax refunds. Further, the division has the authority to seize cash prizes that exceed $600 from parents who are behind on their court-ordered payments. The DCSS may offset such funds up to the total amount of nonpaying parents’ arrears.

Seizure of assets

When parents are behind at least 12 months on their child support payments, the DCSS may seize their assets and property. This includes offsetting funds from bank accounts, savings and loan associations, credit unions, mutual funds, trust companies and other such financial institutions. The collected funds are applied toward the non-custodial parents’ arrears.

Property liens

In lieu of seizing people’s assets for nonpayment, the DCSS may place liens on their property, such as homes or vehicles. Liens may remain on any property people own at the time they are recorded, as well as any property parents acquire after that. They may stay in effect until the past due amount is paid in full.

License suspensions and revocations

Should parents owe six months or more in past due child support, the DCSS may request a suspension or revocation of their driving privileges. Thus, parents’ licenses may be suspended until they resolve or otherwise address their arrears. Additionally, the division may administratively suspend their occupational or professional licenses without court approval.

Court intervention

A court order, people are required to comply with their child support obligations. Should they willfully refuse not to make their payments, the DCSS may file a motion to find the parent in contempt. At the court’s discretion, this may result in fines or jail time for nonpaying parents. Further, state or federal authorities may see fit to file criminal charges for nonpayment in some circumstances.

In cases in which DCSS is not providing services, the party who is supposed to receive support can file a contempt action against the nonpaying party. The Court can, if it finds that the paying party wilfully refused to pay support, order the paying party to be incarcerated in the county jail in work furlough or work release until an amount is paid to purge the finding of contempt. The Court can also enter a judgment against the paying party which can be recorded by the receiving party as a lien.

Regardless of the reasons, non-custodial parents falling behind on their child support payments may make it difficult for custodial parents in Arizona and elsewhere to meet their children’s needs. Thus, those who are owed past due amounts may benefit from consulting with a lawyer. A legal representative may explain their rights, as well as guide them through the process of seeking enforcement.