Child Support Arrearages and Enforcement in Utah

In many divorce situations where children are involved, child support will be a significant area of concern for both parties. Utah child support laws function based on statute, where the parents’ combined income is determined and the “non-custodial” parent(or in a 50/50 joint custody situation, the parent who earns the most)is ordered to pay his or her portion of the total statutory support to the “custodial”or other parent.At the Utahlaw offices of JD Milliner & Associates, PC, we’ve assisted numerous clients with virtually all aspects of child support and child custody situations within our family law practice.

Unfortunately, parents who are ordered to pay child support don’t always do so, which creates what is known in the area of family law as a “child support arrearage” that equals the amount of unpaid child support that is past due.

Child Support Arrearages

Paying child support pursuant to a court order is a legal responsibility for which there are ramifications if payments are not made. There may be several reasons for a parent not paying, including a lack of money, withholding payment due to conflicts between the parents, or just plain stubborn defiance.There are two types of child support arrearages:

  • Assigned: When the custodial parent is receiving government welfare assistance, the non-custodial parent will likely be required make their payments to the state that is providing welfare support to the custodial parent and/or the children in his/her custody. In these cases, the state (in Utah through its Office of Recovery Services or “ORS”) will pursue collection of any arrearage that has occurred since it started providing welfare services and gave notice to the non-custodial parent that s/he needed to start paying the state instead of the custodial parent.
  • Unassigned: The more common situation, where the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent, either directly or through the ORS (or its equivalent in whatever other state the non-custodial parent lives) acting as collections agent for the custodial parent. In this situation, the ORS will automatically collect on payments that were missed after its services were engaged, but not on payments that were missed before that, which must first be reduced to a judgment by the applicable district court.

Obtaining a Judgment for a Child Support Arrearage

If you have an arrearage situation that requires a judgment before it can be collected, and you have already tried to get the payor parent to get caught up, but s/he is not cooperating with setting up and/or completing a payment plan, then you probably have no other option than obtaining a judgment for the amount of the arrearage if you want to collect it.  This is usually done by bringing an Order to Show Cause proceeding in the district court where you live with the children.  An Order to Show Cause is a special type of motion brought to enforce an existing court order, including a child support order.  In an Order to Show Cause proceeding, the non-compliant parent can be held in contempt and punished, including by being put in jail, depending on what their defenses are to the contempt charge, but in any event, the court will probably enter a judgment for the amount of the child support arrearage that is proved to its satisfaction, plus the reasonable attorney feesand costs incurred in obtaining the judgment.  All such judgments are part of the public record and are likely to appear on the debtor’s credit reports and background searches.

How a Child Support Judgment is Enforced

In Utah, the following enforcement measures may be taken to collect on a judgment for a child support arrearage:

  • Garnishing paychecks, worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits
  • Garnishing state and/or federal tax refunds
  • Garnishing bank accounts
  • Seizure of payments from people who owe money to the debtor
  • Seizure and sale of other non-exempt assets
  • Suspension of driver’s license and/or professional license
  • Denial of hunting permits
  • Denial of applications for new or renewed US passports

Collection by the ORS

Once you have a judgment for the child support arrearage, the easiest way to collect it is generally to give it to the ORS and ask the ORS to collect on your judgment and at the same time to collect the current child support payments.  The ORS won’t collect on your judgment unless you are also having it collect current child support.  The ORS charges a very modest fee for its services.  In the vast majority of cases, it will simply garnish the wages of the payor/debtor parent, taking the full current child support obligation, plus half again (50%) more that it applies to the arrearage judgment until it is paid off.  However, the ORS can and will also proceed to other enforcement measures, such as intercepting tax refunds, etc.  If you live in Utah but the debtor parent lives in another state, the ORS will usually interface with its counterpart in that other state to collect on your current child support and on your child support judgment.

For more on child support anneals, or to learn about any of our family law or child custody services, speak to the staff at the Utah law offices of JD Milliner & Associates, PC today by calling 801-505-5600.

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