There are various tools available to enforce a child or spousal support order. The most frequently used are:
1. Wage Assignment Order
Up to a few years back, parties had to show a history of non-payment or late payments before the court would order a wage assignment. Under current California law, the court must issue a wage assignment order whenever the court makes or modifies a support order. Once a wage assignment order is granted by the court, it is sent directly to the payor spouses’ employer who will deduct the amount of support from the payor spouses’ salary and sent it directly to the receiving spouse.
2. Writ of Execution
This tool is most effective when large sums of back support are owed and when the payor spouse has bank accounts or property. The spouse owed the back support can petition the court for an order that the assets be seized and liquefied to satisfy the back support.
3. Child or Spousal Support Security Account
When the payor spouse is self-employed or frequently changing jobs, it becomes very difficult to enforce support via a wage assignment order. In such cases, the court can order the payor spouse to establish a support security account containing one year's worth of support placed in an interest-bearing account. This account acts as a safety net for times when the payor is late or does not pay at all.
Contempt is a quasi-criminal action with a very high burden of proof on the moving party. A party who does not comply with the order, even though he or she had knowledge of the order and the ability to comply, can be held in contempt. If a party is held in contempt, they are sentenced to jail time and fined.
If you find yourself in a position time and time again when your ex-spouse is making late payments, have a conversation with them, if possible. In some cases, the remedy might be fairly simple and can save you time, emotional turmoil, and attorney’s fees.
One of our clients found that her ex-husband, who was a good father in other ways, constantly paid late. When she spoke to him she found out that the start-up company he worked for paid him on the fifth and the twentieth of the month. This made it hard for him to comply with the order which required him to pay on the first and fifteenth of the month. Rather than using any of the tools mentioned above, she chose to empower herself by simply adjusting her financial plans such that his payment schedule worked for her.
Another one of our clients was constantly getting nasty little letters in the mail along with her spousal support checks. In that case, we worked with opposing counsel to set up a voluntary electronic funds transfer. This simple cost-effective procedure did much to reduce contact and unnecessary friction between the parties.
The tools outlined above are extremely powerful. Before utilizing them, it is always a good idea to see how you can empower yourself. In cases where we are certain the payor spouse will be paying late, we always request a wage assignment order.
Should you have any questions regarding the enforcement of orders, please call us for a free consultation.