How are child support orders enforced?

When child support is ordered, either after a hearing or by agreement of the parties, is has to be paid. But often, people are unaware of how this is enforced. There are a few ways.

DHS - The Department of Human Services, Division of Child Support Services
One method of enforcement is where the parent receiving support goes through DHS rather than through the courts.


  • This has the benefit of not costing that parent money.
  • One highly effective means they have at their disposal is suspending the paying parent's drivers license, as well as any other state-issued professional licenses. This tends to work.


  • The downside is that there is no control over the case whatsoever - if you go through DHS, they use administrative processes, and can file a lawsuit of their own against the other parent.
  • It typically prevents any chance of a peaceful resolution
  • It can take much longer
  • It's typically fraught with mistakes. There's no inherent reason for this, it just happens to be the case time and time again. 

Income Deduction Order

The court enters an order when ordering child support, or at a later time, for the paying parent's employer to deduct the child support amount from the parent's paycheck and send it to the state, who then sends it to the receiving parent. If the receiving parent wants this, they have an absolute right to it, and the court has to grant it. 


  • It can prevent the paying parent from falling behind on payments in the first place.
  • Once it's set up, it happens automatically, and can't be forgotten.


  • It's not very effective for self-employed parents, or parents employed by small businesses who may not know how to comply with the order well
  • Due to limits on how much can be deducted this way, it may not take out the full amount of child support, which is a very easy way for a parent to unintentionally fall behind on payments
  • There can be interruptions when the paying parent changes employment
  • It can take months to be implemented, leading to uncertainty of when payments are supposed to be made, and when they'll be taken care of automatically

Contempt of Court

When people talk about child support "debtor's prison", this is what they mean. If a parent falls behind on child support, the receiving parent can file for contempt of court. If the court finds that the parent is behind on payments, they will typically order the parent to pay all or part of the arrears by a future date - usually 30-60 days in the future - to "purge" themselves of the contempt. If the payments ordered aren't made, the court will decide whether the contempt is willful, or non-willful. If they determine it's willful, they'll usually put the offending parent in jail until they've made the ordered payments. 

This happens far, far less frequently than people imagine. Child support amounts are based on income, and if income changes, can be modified. So though the payments can be difficult, they are possible. They may require changes in lifestyle, and usually will, but they can be made. If those changes aren't made, the courts declare that the paying parent chose not to make them, and chose not to be able to make the payments. Fair or not, this is the system in which we are working. 


  • Effective - people really, really don't like going to jail, so they usually find a way to make the payments. The threat of prison is the most effective possible means of enforcement.
  • Prevents future missed payments - again, people don't want to go to jail now or later.


  • Though sometimes necessary, the threat of prison tends to sour the co-parenting relationship.
  • Kids will often learn enough about the case to worry that one parent is trying to send the other to jail. Kids don't understand the nuances here, and you shouldn't discuss it with them, even if the other parent has.
  • It's expensive. While the court will often award attorney's fees, that doesn't help you until the other side has actually paid up. And they aren't guaranteed. That means that you're making an initial outlay of several thousand dollars, which may or may not be reimbursed.

Another often-overlooked method of enforcement: threatening any of the above. If your ex is behind on child support payments, or is consistently late, call The Lilly Law Firm today at  (678) 807-9150 to discuss how each option would look in your particular circumstances.