Enforcement of Child Support Orders in a New Hampshire Divorce
New Hampshire's 2008 Child Support Guidelines became effective on April 1, 2008 and contain the latest calculations and worksheets for determining child support payments.
State of New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
Division of Child Support Services
Once support orders are in place, a partnership called the Child Support Enforcement Program brings together the efforts of local, state and federal child support resources to enforce child support orders and send the strongest possible message that parents cannot walk away from their financial responsibilities for their children. These efforts begin by locating parents (some of whom move or change jobs frequently to avoid paying support) and then by collecting and distributing support payments. These efforts result in reducing the high rate of poverty for children and burdensome welfare costs for taxpayers.
It's a headache for everyone when parents refuse to pay court-ordered child support. This is a serious problem of national proportions because fewer than half of all parents awarded child support actually receive payment in full. As of September 2006, $105 billion in arrears have accumulated nationwide since the child support program began in 1975.
(2006 study by U.S. Health and Human Services Administration, for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/pol/IM/2008/im-08-05a.pdf)
This failure is a major cause of poverty (and even homelessness) of children in America. The truth is, however, that a child support order is as enforceable as any other court judgment or decree. And a parent who is owed child support has tools available to enforce orders.
Following are some of the tools available to assist state and local entities in collecting child support:
Tools For Collecting Child Support
- Parent Locator Service: resources of the federal government, including the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service can be used to locate non-paying parents via an employer. Some nonpaying parents hide from the parent with residential responsibility (formerly known as the custodial parent) to evade child support obligations. Some even go so far as to move out of state to avoid their responsibilities.
To remedy this problem, the federal government created the Parent Locator Service This law also requires states to establish a Parent Locator Service. Under these laws, government resources, (including the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service) are used to locate a nonpaying parent's employer. Once found, the support order can be enforced by recovering funds from the nonpaying parent's federal and state tax refunds, wage assignments, and through other methods listed below. For more information on the Parent Locator Service, contact the local office of the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement.
- National Directory of New Hires: For non-paying parents who move frequently or change jobs often to avoid payment obligations, the National Directory of New Hires makes quick work of obtaining a wage assignment for newly hired employees with outstanding support payments due. Employers are required by law to report all new hires within 20 days of hire; therefore, efforts to avoid detection are more easily defeated than before. This is but one more effective tool that prevents parents from avoiding their financial obligations to their children.
- Wage Assignment: the court can order an employer to make direct payments to the custodial parent from the wages of the non-paying parent.
A wage assignment is a procedure that allows the court to order an employer to make direct payments to the custodial parent from the wages of the nonsupporting parent. You can apply to the court for a wage assignment. Notice of this action must be served on the nonpaying parent's employer. The employer will deduct child support like any other deduction from the nonpaying parent's paycheck and send the money directly to the parent with residential responsibility. If the nonpaying parent holds a steady job, this is a valuable tool.
- Seizure of tax returns: The IRS and the state are permitted to seize the tax refunds of the non-paying parent and send those amounts directly to the parent with residential responsibilities to satisfy the child support arrearages.
- Collecting from a Non-Wage Earner: It is more difficult to collect from people who are not standard W-2 employees because their earnings are more difficult to verify or seize. People who work for cash, who do contract or project work and are paid directly by customers or clients, or who are otherwise able to hide income or assets from detection may have an easier time avoiding disclosure of their income. In difficult cases, use of the resources above, including tax returns, can assist in obtaining the needed information. Otherwise, consider hiring an investigator, initiating a civil action, or seeking assistance in pursuing criminal prosecution of the nonpaying spouse (below).
- Writ of Execution (Liens): A child support order can be enforced just like other court judgments. The court can seize assets or place a lien on the property of the nonpaying parent (such as real property, bank accounts, stock, a paid-off car or other property.) Liens remain in place, preventing the sale of the property, until arrearages are paid. If you want to try this method of enforcing child support, find an experienced attorney to ensure the case is handled properly and not risk losing the financial assistance owed to your child. The placement of liens can be an effective, albeit time consuming, method of influencing a reluctant party to pay court-ordered support obligations.
- Uniform Enforcement of Support Act: This act permits a parent to file a complaint to a New Hampshire district attorney about unpaid child support by a nonpaying parent who lives out of state. The local district attorney can contact a district attorney in the locale where the non-paying parent lives and that office can then bring an action to enforce the New Hampshire order.
- Revocation of a nonpaying parent's driver's license, professional licenses, and recreational licenses
- Revocation of a nonpaying parent's passport
- Reporting nonpayments of child support to national credit bureaus, which will adversely affect the nonpaying parent's credit rating.
- Civil Contempt: Civil contempt is intended to (1) preserve and enforce the rights of private parties to a suit and (2) to compel obedience to orders and decrees primarily made to benefit the parties. A person charged with contempt can resolve the charge by paying the past due child support.
Bringing a Civil Contempt of Court Action
A person who willfully disobeys a lawful child support order can be jailed for contempt of court. The civil contempt action is brought by the parent with residential responsibility over the child. The court clerk will have the proper forms to file. After that, the non-paying parent will have to be notified (served with process) since he or she has the Constitutional right to appear at the hearing and present a defense. If the non-paying parent is properly served and does not appear, the trial court will order a bench warrant for his or her arrest.
If the court finds (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the non-paying parent has willfully failed to pay valid child support order, the court can order the non-paying parent jailed. (Parents showing they did not have the ability to pay will not be found in contempt of court; however they will continue to owe the money.)
Often, the mere threat of jail is sufficient to pry open the non-paying parent's pocketbook. However, in severe cases, parents will be jailed. Sometimes the jail sentence will end only when the proper payment has been made. Jail is not one of the first measures taken because of the practical problems involving a jailed parent's inability to earn money while incarcerated, or potentially even losing employment altogether.
- Criminal Prosecution: the state's attorney/prosecutor can bring criminal charges against the non-paying parent.
Seek a Criminal Prosecution
All states also have criminal laws on the books to punish parents who refuse to pay their child support. Individuals do not bring criminal prosecutions; criminal prosecutions are brought by the state through the state's attorney or prosecutor, depending on set up in the state.
New Hampshire has class B felony non-support and class A misdemeanor non support. Class B felony non support is defined as an arrearage of support unpaid for a cumulative period for more than one year, or an arrearage of more than $10,000, or an obligor [nonpayor] who has been previously convicted of a similar nonsupport offense in another state who has an arrearage that has remained unpaid for a cumulative period of more than one year. All other cases of nonpayment are class A misdemeanors.
Nonpayment of child support is punishable by probation, conditional or unconditional discharge, a fine, or imprisonment, with a maximum term of 1 year for a class A misdemeanor and up to 7 years for a class B felony.
New Hampshire Code, Title LXII, Chapter 639:4651:2
Your local child support enforcement office will forward information about your case to the child support unit of the local state's attorney's/prosecutor's office. If you do not have court-ordered child support, the State's Attorney/prosecutor will get a court order that the non-paying parent must pay. The Child Support Enforcement Administration will enforce the order, and may take action such as contacting the non-paying parent's employer to have child support withheld from paychecks. If all the Administration's efforts fail, the Administration will refer your case to the local State's Attorney's/prosecutor's office for criminal prosecution. If the defendant (non-paying parent) is found guilty, he or she may be jailed or the guilty parent may be put on probation and allowed to remain free if he or she pays all back child support and makes all future payments in a timely manner.