Dealing with Deadbeats – How to Enforce Child Support

Sadly, many non-custodial parents refuse to pay court-ordered child support, which places a heavy financial burden on children and their custodial parents. In order to combat this, federal and state legislatures have enacted strict policies aimed at enforcing support. The nationwide crackdown on these “deadbeats” has made it more difficult for non-custodial parents to shirk financial obligations to their kids. Below, I’ll review some powerful enforcement tools available at the state and federal levels.

Establishing Child Support

State laws govern how child support is calculated, but most states rely on a specific formula that considers various factors, including parents’ incomes and time spent with each child. An experienced, local family law attorney will know how to file a request for child support on your behalf.

If you can’t afford an attorney, don’t give up hope. All states offer some child support services to help parents establish, enforce and collect child support. These government-sponsored child support offices are typically referred to as the “Office of Child Support Services” (OCSS) or “Department of Child Support Services” (DCSS). The “Getting Help” section below explains how to get in touch with your local OCSS.

For more information on calculating child support in your state, check out, which has an entire section dedicated to child support guidelines.

Ways to Enforce Child Support

Once established, a child support order must be obeyed. If not, custodial parents may ask an attorney or their local OCSS for help “encouraging” the delinquent parent to pay. Parents that fail to pay child support may be subject to severe penalties, including:

  • Wage Deductions – child support is taken directly out of the non-custodial parent’s wages.
  • Federal Income Tax Intercepts – the state can intercept a large tax refund to cover late or missing child support payments.
  • License Suspensions and Revocations – a driver’s license and professional license(s) may be revoked.
  • Passport Restrictions.
  • Contempt of Court – this is a court order that may result in a fine or jail time.

Federal Prosecution of Deadbeat Parents

The U.S. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) can intervene in child-support cases where the non-custodial parent lives in a state other than where the child lives, and:

  • refuses to pay child support for over one year
  • where the amount owing is more than $5000, or
  • where the non-custodial parent travels to another state or country to avoid paying child support.

The punishment includes fines and up to six months in prison (or both) for a first offense. For a second offense, or where child support hasn’t been paid for two years, or the support owed is more than $10,000, the punishment is a fine of up to $250,000 or two years in prison, or both.

Some of the most notorious deadbeat parents are also added to OIG’s Most Wanted Deadbeats list online.

“Project Save Our Children” (PSOC) is a multiagency task force dedicated to identifying, investigating and prosecuting the worst child support cases. PSOC goes after offenders who meet the criteria for federal prosecution under the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Acts. Its members are from the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, OIG Special Agents, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice.

Getting Help

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Support Enforcement website has a lot of useful information about child support and an OCSS search tool that provides contact information for offices in all 50 states and D.C.