Once the court orders you to pay child support, you must make the monthly child support payments starting on the date the judge orders.
In every case ordering child support, the court will order that a wage assignment (garnishment) be issued and served. The wage assignment tells your employer to take the support payments out your wages.
When the local child support agency (LCSA) is NOT involved, both parents can agree that payments can be made in some other way and can ask that service of the wage assignment (sending the wage assignment to the employer) be “stayed” (put on hold). In this situation, the parents work out how child support will be paid and handle it between them.
If the LCSA is involved, they have to agree to have the wage assignment “stayed.” The LCSA will most likely want an active wage assignment in place with the employer if they are involved in the case. They will also want all child support payments to go through the State Disbursement Unit.
Not paying child support can have very serious consequences. If the court finds that you have the ability to pay support but are willfully not paying it, it can find you are in contempt of court. Being in contempt of court could mean jail time for you for not paying child support. This enforcement tool is generally used only when all others have failed since it has such serious consequences.
IMPORTANT!! If the reason you cannot pay your child support or are falling behind is you lost your job, your income went down, you went to jail, or some other important change happened, you need to ask the court to change your child support amount. DO NOT WAIT. Even if you lose your job, you will be responsible for the full amount of child support until the child support order is changed by the court.
Making sense of your child support order
It is possible that the amount of money you owe each month for the support of your children is more than the child support amount you thought you had to pay. There can be many reasons. For example:
- You may have to pay for a share (usually half of the cost) of the child-care expenses of your child while the custodial parent is working or going to school. This amount can be high since child care can be very expensive.
- You may also owe more because you fell behind in paying your child support. When you fall behind in your child support, you will have to keep paying your current amount of support AND an additional amount to begin to cover the back child support you owe. You will be charged 10 percent interest per year on any child support that you did not pay when it was due.
- You may also be responsible for the costs of the mother’s pregnancy, the child’s health-care expenses, attorney fees, and other costs.
- In addition, your employer may charge you $1.50 every time that the employer takes money from your paycheck to provide support.
Interest on past-due child support
If you do not pay all the child support you owe on time, you may find that you must pay interest on the balance due on top of the amount you owe. If the amount you owe is correct and it was not paid, you cannot do anything about the interest. Interest charges are added by law, and the judge cannot stop them.
After the court decides the amount of child and spousal support, the wage assignment tells the employer how much to deduct from each paycheck and instructs the employer to send the money to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU), which will send the money to the parent owed the support.
With a wage assignment, if you are regularly employed, the employer will take support payments directly out of your paycheck. Most support is paid this way, and federal and state law requires it in almost all child support cases. It is the employer’s responsibility to withhold the wages if there is a wage assignment. If you have other wage assignments in place, child support is deducted first, before other withholding orders. Spousal or partner support assignments come after child support wage assignments.
If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case, they will automatically issue the wage assignment and begin collecting from your paycheck through your employer.
If the LCSA is not involved in your case, the parent owed the support will prepare a wage assignment, submit it to the court for the judge’s signature, and send it to your employer.
How payments made by wage assignment work
- Once the wage assignment is served on the employer, the employer has 10 days to start taking the money out from your next paycheck.
- If the local child support agency is involved in your case, the wage assignment is sent to your employer within 15 days of the date the LCSA finds the employer. The employer must deduct the support from your wages and send it to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU) within 10 days.
With a wage assignment that includes child support, employers must send the payments withheld to the SDU. This means that the child support payments will come to the other parent from the SDU and not directly from your employer. Getting payments through the SDU does not mean that you have a case with the local child support agency.
If you have any questions about the SDU, contact the SDU directly at 1-866-901-3212 or go to State Disbursement Unit (SDU) website.
If you do NOT want your wages garnished
The court is required by law to issue wage assignments (garnishments) for the collection of child support. There are only a few situations where the court is allowed to not issue a wage assignment. Also, you can object to the wage assignment in only a few situations. For instance, if you and the other parent have an agreement that says there will be no wage assignment, it might be possible to ask the court to review your case.
Asking that the wage assignment be quashed (“set aside” or “canceled”)
When a wage assignment (also called an “earnings assignment”) order is sent to your employer, your employer will give you a blank Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450). You have 10 days from when you receive this form to ask for a hearing on the wage assignment. On the form, you will have a chance to explain why you do not want your wages garnished. When you go to court, the judge will make a decision.
The reasons you can ask for the wage assignment to be canceled are:
- If you and the other parent have an agreement that you will pay your child support directly (and if the LCSA is involved, they agree too);
- You are the wrong person (not the person ordered to pay support);
- ALL of the following apply:
- It would be in your children’s best interests to cancel the wage assignment;
- You have made payments on time for the last 12 months without a wage assignment;
- You do not owe any back child support; AND
- The wage assignments would cause an undue hardship.
Asking for service of the wage assignment to be “stayed” (“put on hold”)
In some cases, you may be able to get a “stay” of (a “hold” on) the service of the wage assignment, which means that the wage assignment would not be sent to your employer and you would be able to pay on your own. Read the Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (Form FL-455) for more information on the reasons you can request a stay.
In general, you can ask for a “stay” of the service of the wage assignment:
- If you have a history of making payments on time;
- If the wage assignments would cause an undue hardship; or
- If the reason you are behind is that your checks to the other person have been undeliverable for 6 months.
To ask the judge to stay the wage assignment:
- Fill out the Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (Form FL-455). On this form, mark the box that explains you have an agreement with the other parent (AND the LCSA if they are involved in your case) for another payment arrangement.
- You will get a court hearing where you can ask the judge to stop service of the wage assignment.
- If the judge agrees with your request, he or she will sign the stay. This stops the wage assignment from taking effect.
- If you get a stay, it is very important you both keep good records of all the payments, in case there are any issues in the future.
If you do not follow your arrangement, the other parent (or the LCSA) can ask the court to end the stay on the wage assignment and ask the employer to start garnishing your wages.
If you disagree with the amount on the wage assignment
When a wage assignment order is sent to your employer, your employer will give you a blank Request for Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450). You have 10 days from when you receive this form to ask for a hearing on the wage assignment. On the form, you will have a chance to explain why you think the amount on the wage assignment is wrong. When you go to court, the judge will make a decision.
Remember that this is not the form you use to ask for a change in the amount of your child support. This form is used only because you believe that something is wrong with the wage assignment, like the amount that will be taken from your paycheck is the wrong amount.
If you cannot afford to pay the amount on the wage assignment
If your employer is taking too much out of your paycheck and you cannot afford it, there may be something you can do. It depends on what amounts are being taken from your check.
If your employer is just taking out the monthly child support that the court ordered (without anything added to it), then there is probably nothing you can do except go to court to ask for your child support to be changed. BUT if you just had a court hearing and that is the order the judge made and nothing has changed since the hearing, you probably will not succeed since it is the amount the judge ruled you have to pay.
If your employer is taking out 50 percent or more of your paycheck or an amount much higher than what your monthly child support order is, you probably have a past-due child support balance. In this case, there may be something you can do. The court (and the LCSA if they are involved in your case) has a little more flexibility in how much money you have to pay every month to start paying off your back child support.
First, contact the local child support agency (LCSA) if they are involved in your case, to see if you can make arrangements to lower your payments. If that does not work, you can file court forms to ask a judge to set a payment that you can afford. Remember, this payment is for the back child support.
from California Courts