In our previous post, we discussed the prevalence of delinquency in payment of child support and first steps to take if you are the parent owed support, including contacting the prosecuting attorney. In this post, we look at other options available.
Not every county in Missouri chooses to prosecute parents with child support arrearages. Some counties have chosen instead to have a civil contempt docket, wherein the prosecutor works to bring parents in arrears into a setting before a court where the goal is to as quickly as possible resume payments to the parent owed. Much like a family access docket for custody cases, civil contempt dockets have the advantage of getting a parent in arrears before a court quickly and without the need for the parent owed support to hire an attorney and incur legal fees that parent may not be able to afford.
If your county does not have a civil contempt docket or you feel you would like a different option, you do have other options.
A parent owed support may always file a motion for contempt and motion for sums due and owing in the family court. In terms of relief, the parent owed support can receive not only all back child support but also attorney fees and fines for having to pursue the litigation. A court considering a motion for contempt has the authority to find the delinquent parent in contempt and order that parent to pay a sum certain by a specific date or issue a warrant for commitment, a form of criminal contempt, which allows the court to do what a criminal conviction for nonsupport would do – put the delinquent parent in jail. The critical difference between criminal contempt and a conviction for criminal nonsupport, however, is that a judge cannot indefinitely hold a parent in jail; the judge must give the parent the opportunity to purge himself or herself from contempt.
A court or the Director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement also has the ability to take away the delinquent parent’s driver’s license or professional license. Under Section 454.1003 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, a court or the Director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement may suspend the license for sixty days initially, and potentially longer, if the delinquent parent owes an arrearage in an amount greater than or equal to three months support payments or $2,500, whichever is less. In that suspension period, the obligor can only regain the license by paying the arrearage or entering into and complying with a payment plan approved by the court or the Division of Child Support Enforcement. After a hearing, a court could order the suspension extend until the delinquent parent complies with the orders of the court. From a cosmetologist to a physician, a whole range of professional occupations have licenses, and a person looking to lose that livelihood will usually be motivated to comply with the court rather than risk overall earning potential.
A contempt judgment entered by a court is a final judgment subject to appeal. If the contemnor does not appeal, the final judgment is capable of execution, which means the parent owed support can place liens on bank accounts, homes, personal property – anything tangible in the name of the judgment debtor to recover. These judgments are final and never die so long as they are revived every ten years. As a result, in the worst of offenders, it may take time and effort, but collection remains an open option.
If you have questions about collecting child support, contact us – we can help.