Is it Illegal to Not Pay Child Support in CA?

A child support order is not optional. Obeying it is mandatory. If a parent who has been ordered to pay child support fails to do so, he or she could face serious consequences. This includes potentially being held in criminal contempt of court, which is a misdemeanor in California that can carry a jail sentence. If your ex-spouse is refusing to pay child support, there are steps you can take to protect your rights.

The Consequences of Not Paying Child Support 

Child support orders are given to benefit the child or children of a marriage. They are not intended to punish or penalize the paying spouse or reward the recipient. This payment is intended to cover basic childcare needs and reasonable expenses. If a child support order is given, it is because the court deems this is what’s in the child’s best interest. For this reason, the courts take the failure to pay child support seriously, as it is the child who will suffer.

Nonpayment of child support in California can result in the following penalties: 

  • Wage garnishment – child support payments are automatically withdrawn from the paychecks of the parent who owes child support.
  • Property lien – a legal claim made by the government to the person’s assets, including a home or vehicle, to use as collateral if the child support debt is not paid.
  • Denial of tax refund – child support arrears (unpaid child support debt) can be deducted from the individual’s tax return payout.
  • Loss of licenses – the individual could have various licenses suspended or revoked, including a driver’s license, professional license, hunting license and boating license.
  • Contempt of court – continued nonpayment of a child support order can lead to being held in contempt of court. This can have both civil and criminal consequences.

A civil warrant filed for contempt of court will typically be dismissed if the parent satisfies his or her child support debt. However, the individual may also have to pay a fine and/or face less than one year of jail time. If a parent falls severely behind on payments, state or federal prosecutors may become involved in the case. This could result in a criminal warrant being issued for the individual’s arrest. Criminal contempt of court is a misdemeanor offense in California that can result in one year in jail or longer.

How to Collect Child Support From Your Ex-Spouse

If your ex-spouse isn’t paying the child support he or she legally owes according to your divorce or legal separation agreement, you can take steps to hold him or her accountable and recover the money due. First, you can attempt to get the payments with an Income Withholding Order. The judge in your case most likely signed this order as part of the child support agreement, but if you don’t have one, you can submit an order for the judge to sign one. This order will tell the nonpaying parent’s employer to take the support payments out of his or her pay and send them to the State Disbursement Unit, which will then send them to you.

You can also contact your Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) to ask them to intervene. They can help you collect unpaid child support and enforce the court’s order. If nonpayment persists, contact a Los Angeles child support attorney to help you. An attorney can undergo the process of having your ex-spouse held in civil or criminal contempt of court. If criminal charges are what it takes to force your ex-spouse to comply with a child support order, this may be what happens. Either way, an attorney can help you protect your rights and your child’s best interests by asking the courts to enforce the order in every way available.