Deadbeat Parents: How to Enforce Your Arizona Child Support Order
I read an interesting article the other day about a man named Corey Curtis in Wisconsin. Mr. Curtis is the father of nine children with six different mothers. According to the news article, Mr. Curtis owes almost $100,000 in back child support. The fact that Mr. Curtis has multiple children by multiple women and is not paying child support is not what made this story newsworthy. What made this article interesting is that the family court judge, exasperated by Mr. Curtis’ failure to take responsibility for his children by paying his child support, ordered, as a condition of his probation, that he not procreate until he can demonstrate to the court that he can provide for his children. Under Wisconsin law, this type of legal restriction is permissible.
The problem with deadbeat parents is a nationwide problem, including in Arizona. Here in Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio conducts an annual deadbeat parent roundup. These sweeps are aimed to locate and to arrest the parents (usually fathers) who are not providing court-ordered financial support for their children. Sheriff Arpaio points out that the purpose of his “Operation Don’t Be a Deadbeat” roundups is to send a message to parents to pay their child support. This is one of Sheriff Joe’s programs I can support.
The failure for a parent to pay child support can impact all of us. According to a 2011 Census Bureau Report, more than $35 billion dollars in child support was owed nationally in 2009. Among the more than 6.9 million custodial parents who were awarded child support in 2009, only 41.2% received the amount that was due. 29.2% of custodial parents nationwide received none of the child support money they were due. The lack of payment to support these children naturally results in the need for more government programs to assist single parents who do not get consistent support. Other government resources, such as courts and child support enforcement agencies spend millions each year to track down deadbeat parents.
In my experience as an Arizona family law attorney practicing in Mesa and the East Valley, the best strategy to enforce the non-payment of child support is to be aggressive and consistent. State and federal laws make it a crime to not pay child support. Too many single parents, mostly mothers, simply do not have the ability or resources to try to enforce child support orders. One good resource in Arizona is to contact the child support enforcement division of the Arizona Department of Economic Security. AZDES has many resources to assist in the enforcement of child support orders. Among the remedies available to AZDES is to seize assets of a non-paying parent, placing liens on the property, intercepting lottery winnings, suspension, and revocation of drivers’ licenses and reporting non-payment to credit bureaus.
Another option is to hire an experienced Arizona family law attorney to file a child support enforcement petition and/or motion for contempt. An enforcement or contempt action is brought before a family court judge, usually, the judge that handled the original divorce. The process includes filing a petition and serving it on the non-paying party. The court then sets an Order to Show Cause hearing and requires the non-paying parent to come into court and explain why he or she is delinquent in paying their child support obligation. The court can impose any number of remedies under Arizona law, including garnishment, attachment, liens, etc. Status conferences on frequently set so the court can continue to track the progress of the non-paying parent. More significant remedies can be imposed, including jail and criminal charges for failure to pay child support. I frequently hear some individuals threaten to file bankruptcy on back-child support. This is an idle threat because child support is non-dischargeable in bankruptcy court. A child support arrearages never will go away and just keeps accruing interest for years and years to come.
Any parent that is owed back child support should take aggressive measures to enforce the child support order. Making a non-paying parent stand before a judge and explain his or her failure to take care of his or her children is an uncomfortable thing for most parents. In many cases it is not a matter of ability to pay, it is a matter of motivation. With the proper motivation, many deadbeat parents begin working on the delinquency. Non-payment of child support is a serious matter with serious consequences that affect all of us. The answer to non-payment is not often going to be a court order prohibiting procreation (although it is not a bad idea). A better answer is more accountability and consequences. Aggressively enforcing your child support order with court action may be all the motivation your ex-needs to do the right thing.