If either child support or spousal support is going to be part of your divorce, it’s wise to give some thought in advance to the details of actually collecting it.  Non-payment of court-ordered support is a major problem.  The collection rate for child support in California in 2004 was only 44%.  It is probably not that much different now.  Here are some tips to help you in collecting support:

Make Your Own Agreementscollecting support

The most effective thing you can do is work out agreements with your spouse as regards support.  You can do this on your own or with the help of a mediator.  Compliance then is much more likely than when support is imposed by the court.  Make these agreements very specific.  Include the date(s) each month that the support will be due.  Indicate how support will be paid (e.g. by check or bank transfer, etc.)  You may also want to agree upon provisions that will apply in the event of lateness.

Collecting Support

Once support has been become a legal obligation, you can collect via an earnings assignment order.  This takes the support directly out of the paying spouse’s wages and makes the collection process automatic.

You can include an earnings assignment order in your divorce judgment paperwork for the judge to sign.  The support recipient then needs to have the spouse’s employer served with the order to initiate the garnishing of the payer’s wages.

This can also be used when collecting support from Social Security, unemployment insurance, retirement, trust funds or lottery winnings.  It can include make-up payments to eliminate any arrears that have accumulated.

Often spouses agree in writing that the order will not be served (e.g. on the payor’s employer) so long as payments are current.

Enforcing Support

Another possibility is to intercept any federal or state tax refunds to which your spouse is entitled.  This must be initiated by the DCSS (Department of Child Support Services).  The DCSS may also be able to suspend driver’s and other professional and occupational licenses in the interest of collecting support payments.  Passports can also be withheld.

If ordered child support is not being paid and you would like assistance, contact your local child support enforcement agency.

You can also attempt to enforce support and go after unpaid support by filing with the court a motion for contempt.  To win a contempt order, you must prove your former spouse knew of the support court order, had the ability to comply with it and violated the order.  You should have a lawyer because the defendant will almost certainly have one.  Since the person charged with contempt is facing a possible jail sentence, if he or she cannot afford a lawyer, the county will appoint one.

Guaranteeing Support

You can agree to a security deposit to cover future support.  A judge can order a security deposit in the amount of up to one year’s support.  This can be prudent when the payor is self-employed or has a highly variable income.

You can also consider getting and maintaining life insurance on the life of the payor to protect the receiving spouse and the children.  It’s now also possible to obtain insurance to cover the possibility that the payer will lose his/her job.