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The Money Mom: Chasing Child Support

iStock_000000562013XSmallI often receive questions from divorced mothers who are having trouble getting child support out of their ex-husbands. I think this is something that happens all too often (and it works both ways – I also get letters from fathers who are trying to collect from their ex-wives) so I thought I’d address it here.

This question isn’t easy to answer, because child support laws vary pretty widely by state. Across the board, however, the district or state attorney is required to help you collect if you’re owed money, so that’s where I want you to start if you fall into this kind of situation. Once you’ve spoken to them and they’ve confirmed the court’s orders, they’ll serve your ex with papers. He’ll be required to contact their office to arrange a payment schedule.

If that fails, then they can take more desperate measures, including garnishing wages or tax refunds. Extreme enforcement measures could mean suspending a business license, if there is one (seems strange, I know – why would you want to hurt this person’s earning ability? – but it often motivates someone to pay up), and refusing to issue a passport. Some states also allow the garnishment of a driver’s license. He may also be required to foot the bill for any fees you incurred in your battle to get the cash.

But – as I’m sure you know – it’s far better to avoid this whole mess in the first place, and there is a way to do that. When the court rules that you’re owed child support payments, you can typically ask that it be paid through your state’s child support enforcement agency. What that means is that you don’t have to do anything at all:  They act as the middle man, collecting your ex’s payments and sending them to you. And if those payments stop, they do the dirty work by intervening to go after the money.

They’ll usually also automatically seek cost of living increases, which – as I’m sure you know – are very important. For the services, you’ll pay a small administrative fee, generally $25 a year or so, and I think it’s worth it. Even if you didn’t sign up for the service at the time of your divorce, you can typically go back to court and make the change.

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