Enforcement of Child Support Orders in an Iowa Divorce
Iowa Child Support Recovery
If you have a child support order that is being ignored, paid late, not paid regularly, or only partially paid, THERE IS HELP.
Iowa's Child Support Recovery Unit iprovides the following services to assist in enforcing support orders:
- Parent Locator Services: States work together and with the federal government and share information to locate absent parents or any other person who has an obligation to support a child. Some nonpaying parents hide from the custodial parent (the parent with whom the child lives) to evade child support obligations and even move out of state to avoid their responsibilities. Both state governments and the federal government have parent locator services. Federal level resources for finding parents are at the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, National Directory of New Hires (which requires employers to report all new hires within 20 days of hire), and Iowa's Central Employee Registry, which requires employers to report newly hired employees within 15 days of hire or rehire. These laws enable government resources to be used to locate a nonpaying parent through the employer. Once found, the support order can be enforced by recovering funds from the nonpaying parent's federal and state tax refunds and through wage assignments. Therefore, even those who practice job-skipping techniques cannot evade paying child support with this system in place.
- Aid in establishing paternity and securing a court or administrative order for support.
- Aid in enforcing, through court or administrative proceedings, an existing court order for support.
- Assist in obtaining a wage assignment is a procedure that allows the state courts to order an employer to make direct payments to the custodial parent from the wages of the nonsupporting parent. You can apply to the court for a wage assignment. Notice of this action must be served on the nonpaying parent's employer. As with the locator service, description above, the employer will deduct child support like any other deduction from the nonpaying parent's paycheck and send the money directly to the custodial parent. If the nonpaying parent holds a steady job, this is a valuable tool.
- Assistance to set off against a debtor's income tax refund or rebate any support debt. The IRS and the state of Iowa are permitted to seize the federal and state tax refunds, respectively, of the non-paying parent and send those amounts directly to the custodial parent to satisfy the child support arrearages.
- Determine periodically whether individuals receiving unemployment compensation benefits owe a support obligation that is being enforced by the unit by cross-referencing nonpaying parents' names with unemployment benefit recipients' names. The unit then enforces the support obligation through court or administrative proceedings, and has amounts withheld from the individual's unemployment compensation benefits and sent to the custodial parent.
- Assistance in obtaining medical support.
- Assistance in identifying and taking action against self-employed individuals. It is more difficult to collect from people who are not standard W-2 employees because their earnings are more difficult to verify or seize than employees' wages. People who work for cash, who do contract or project work and are paid directly by customers or clients, who run their own businesses, or who are otherwise able to work without a paper trail can more easily hide income or assets from detection than regular employees.
- The review and adjustment, modification, or alteration of a support order at a minimum of once every four years, to parents subject to a support order of their rights to these services.
- Financial Institution Data Match – Use of automated computer matches with in-state and multi-state financial institutions to locate assets of nonpayers.
- Use of prison information, public utilities, driver registration, voter registration, professional licensing information and state tax information to locate nonpaying parents.
Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
Iowa's Child Support Recovery Unit uses the Iowa Supreme Court's Guidelines to set the amount of child support to be paid. Both parents' incomes are used to calculate the support amount because of the importance of both parents' involvement in supporting their children.
In determining monthly income, parents' gross pay is considered as monthly income for purposes of calculating child support, subtracting such expenses as the amount of support obligations for other children, taxes, health insurance (as long as the children are covered), and union dues.
Iowa Courts' Remedies for Nonpayment of Support
Iowa courts can respond to a petition for nonpayment of child support in a number of ways, including one or more of the following:
- Issue or enforce a support order, modify a child support order, or render a judgment to determine parentage.
- Order compliance with a support order;
- Order income withholding;
- Determine the amount of any arrearages, and specify a method of payment.
- Enforce orders by civil or criminal contempt, or both.
- Set aside property for satisfaction of the support order.
- Place liens on the nonpaying parent's property. A child support order can be enforced just like other court judgments. The court can seize assets or place a lien on the property of the nonpaying parent (such as real property, bank accounts, stock, a paid-off car or other property.) Liens remain in place, preventing the sale of the property, until arrearages are paid. If you want to try this method of enforcing child support, find an experienced attorney to ensure the case is handled properly and not risk losing the financial assistance owed to your child. The placement of liens can be an effective, albeit time consuming, method of influencing a reluctant party to pay court-ordered support obligations.
- Order the parent to keep the court informed of his or her current residential address, telephone number, employer, address of employment, and telephone number at the place of employment;
- Issue a bench warrant for a parent who has failed after proper notice to appear at a hearing ordered by the court and enter the bench warrant in any local and state computer systems for criminal warrants;
- Order the parent to seek appropriate employment by specified methods;
- Award reasonable attorneys' fees and other fees and costs;
- Grant any other available remedy.
The court will include in the support order the calculations on which the support order is based.
A court may NOT condition the payment of a support order by a party with provisions for visitation.
(IA 252K 305)
Other State and Federal Enforcement Powers
- Revocation of a nonpaying parent's driver's license, professional licenses, and recreational licenses
- Revocation of a nonpaying parent's passport
- Reporting nonpayments of child support to national credit bureaus (Having this nonpayment history on a credit report will adversely affect the nonpayer's credit rating, which will make it more difficult and costly to obtain credit and loans.)
Bringing a Civil Contempt of Court Action
A person who willfully disobeys a lawful child support order can be jailed for contempt of court. The civil contempt action is brought by the custodial parent. The court clerk will have the proper forms to file or this can be done through the Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit (above). After filing the papers and serving the nonpaying parent with papers according to their rules, if the non-paying parent is properly served and does not appear, the trial court will order a bench warrant for his or her arrest.
If the court finds (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the non-paying parent has willfully failed to pay valid child support order, the court can order the non-paying parent jailed. (Parents showing they did not have the ability to pay will not be found in contempt of court; however they will continue to owe the money.)
Often, the mere threat of jail is sufficient to pry open the non-paying parent's pocketbook. In severe cases, however, a parent will be jailed. Sometimes the jail sentence will end only when the proper payment has been made. Jail is not one of the first or preferred measures taken because of the practical problem involving a jailed parent's inability to earn money or work while incarcerated.
Only the state's attorney/prosecutor can bring criminal charges against the non-paying parent. All states have criminal laws on the books to punish parents who refuse to pay their child support obligation.
A useful and detailed resource for divorcing parents with child support obligations is the Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit Services Handbook (January 2008) available free online at:
This reference source provides extensive information on helping families maintain financial self-sufficiency by establishing and enforcing child and medical support orders and processing payments by locating parents, their employers, and sources of income, establishing paternity, modifying support orders, registering other states' support orders for enforcement or modification, offsetting tax refunds, income withholding, levies on property, revocation of professional licenses and driving licenses, answering customer questions, and so on.