Suspend License to Enforce Child Support
State Child Support Agencies have a lot of arrows in their quivers to enforce child support arrears – contempt of court proceedings, as well as a variety of civil measures such as garnishing wages, seizing tax returns or bank accounts, suspending licenses (driver’s or professional), triggering a passport suspension with the U.S. Department of State, and more. In short, if you don’t pay court-ordered support, the state has many, many ways to reach out and touch someone to induce payment, short of actually punishing them.
However, as the world’s economy is ailing during the Covid pandemic, at least one state has decided it’s time for a lighter approach. Rather than taking away a “deadbeat” parent’s ability to earn an income – thereby killing the goose that laid the golden egg – the state will no longer suspend the license of a parent with child support arrears.
Oklahoma & Suspension of Driver’s Licenses
A new Oklahoma law which went into effect on November 1, 2020 is aimed at reducing the consequences of missed child support payments as an emergency pandemic measure. Supporters of the law argued that the current enforcement measures were ineffective and, at times, counterintuitive. Notably, it was passed unanimously.
According to reporting by the Claremore Daily Progress, Oklahoma’s current child support scheme has very similar enforcement measures as in Colorado, with wage garnishments, revocation of hunting or fishing licenses and the revocation of driver’s licenses, business licenses, or professional licenses. That means an attorney in Oklahoma who has child support arrears could lose his or her bar license for nonpayment of child support. And they can seize tax returns, including stimulus checks.
The new rule removes the threat of losing a driver’s license or a business or professional license for failure to pay. The other methods are still possible however.
COVID-19 led to these changes as many people are out of work and unable to pay child support for reasons outside of their control according to OK State Representative Mark Lepak, one of the supporters of the law. Lawmakers are concerned that taking away someone’s ability to get to work when they are behind on child support is not in the best interest of the children.
Oklahoma’s move to scale back enforcement mechanisms in the face of COVID-19 seems to be the first of their kind around the country. No similar measure seems to be on the table for Colorado right now, but that may change in the future.
Enforcement of Child Support Orders in Colorado
Thus far, there is no indication Colorado will follow suit and remove the suspension of licenses as a remedy for non-support.
As in Oklahoma, Colorado may suspend the license of a parent with child support arrears. And we also have the same broad measures that Oklahoma has for support arrears in a divorce or parenting case. When there is a support order, the past due child support does not simply disappear just because one parent fails to pay. It will remain an obligation of the parent who is ordered to pay (known as the obligor) and will accrue as arrears that will incur interest on the balance owed over time.
If the obligor fails to follow through on a child support order, the other parent can pursue contempt of court under C.R.S. 14-14-110, an income assignment, get a judgment and file a lien, or even get Child Support Services involved for assistance.
There are two kinds of contempt in Colorado: remedial and punitive. With remedial contempt, the parent not paying support as ordered is threatened with jail time or perhaps additional fines unless payment is made by a specific deadline; the goal is to secure compliance in the future.
Punitive contempt is where the non-paying or non-complying obligor is punished for the failure to follow the court’s order by paying a fee to the state or jail time; the goal is the punishment with punitive contempt. Punitive contempt is a quasi-criminal proceeding as the party moving for contempt bears the burden of proving the contempt beyond a reasonable doubt (much like in a criminal case) and the alleged wrongdoer has the right to counsel in the contempt proceedings under Colo. R. Civ. P. 107(d)(1).
For more information on contempt, please see the Punitive & Remedial Contempt of Court article at the Family Law Guide.
Requesting an income assignment (also known as a garnishment) is a relatively simple process in divorce and allocation of parental responsibilities cases. An income assignment is a court order that directs payments come directly from the obligor’s paycheck (rather than waiting on that parent to take steps to pay him or herself). Under C.R.S. 14-14-111.5, an income assignment is activated immediately once a support order is made unless the Court makes specific findings that there is good cause for no income assignment or the parties agree otherwise. If the obligor is missing payments and there is no income assignment, the other parent can simply file a motion to get an income assignment activated to ensure payments in the future.
Filing a lien on real property is an option to guarantee payment of child support owed if the property is sold. In Colorado, a support order becomes a judgement automatically every month it is due and not paid under (1)(c). The parent owed support can file a verified entry of support judgment with the Court and the judge will issue an order that can be used to file a lien. A lien may not be satisfied right away, but will follow the obligor around until satisfied.
Much like in Oklahoma, Colorado has Child Support Services offices that can help establish and enforce child support orders. As a state government entity, Child Support Services has enforcement options not otherwise available to the public including steps like suspension of driver’s licenses, bank account seizure and even taking a tax refund from the owing/non-paying parent. Child Support Services also has the ability to file for contempt among other options.