Custodial parents of children under age 18 have legal options at their disposal to make their ex-partner pay child support if they have fallen behind on their payments. In Indiana, the State uses several enforcement tools to make parents pay child support, and most of the tools do not require any action on the part of the custodial parent. But a custodial parent may go to court and initiate contempt proceedings if the State’s efforts to get the other parent to pay prove ineffective. Contempt proceedings can authorize the court to order the partner to pay a fine or go to jail if they do not start paying. This blog post will first explain the enforcement tools the State uses to make parents pay child support. Then, the post will detail the contempt proceedings process, including how a custodial parent may initiate it and the possible outcomes of the proceedings.
Enforcement tools allow the State to pressure parents into making their court-ordered child support payments. The tools the State can use include:
(1) withholding support payments from a parent’s wages, unemployment compensation, and other benefits;
(2) intercepting a parent’s federal and state income tax refunds, lottery winnings, gambling winnings, and insurance settlements;
(3) reporting a parent’s unpaid support to a credit bureau;
(4) suspending a parent’s driver’s license or other licenses such as hunting and fishing licenses;
(5) applying vehicle liens to a parent’s vehicle;
(6) locating and withholding a parent’s bank assets; and
(7) denying or revoking a parent’s passports.
The State will invoke one or more of these tools immediately once certain thresholds are met, like when a parent goes a designated number of months without paying or falls behind so far on their payments that they owe a sum in the thousands of dollars. Parents often decide to start making payments once they lose money out of their paycheck or benefits, find out that their license has been suspended, or are notified that a lien has been placed on their car. If the parent still does not start paying, the custodial parent’s best option is to initiate proceedings asking the Court to hold the non-paying parent in contempt.
Contempt proceedings are the vehicle by which the Court may punish a parent for violating an order to pay child support. Courts may impose legal penalties on parents who deliberately fail to make court-ordered child support payments if the parent fails to appear in court for the proceedings, or does appear but fails to show they were unable to pay. The parent will be able to avoid the penalties that come with being held in contempt if they can show written records proving they have not had the financial means to make their payments. Penalties can include fines and/or time in jail if the Court finds they had the means to pay but failed to do so.
To initiate contempt proceedings, the custodial parent must file a contempt motion with the Court alleging the other parent has failed to pay court-ordered child support payments. The motion will fail if the Court did not approve the child support payments or issue an order mandating them itself. Motions must be brought before either the date the child is emancipated or within 10 years after the child’s eighteenth birthday, whichever comes first. You may read more about emancipation and when child support obligations end in our blog post on the subject.
This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.