Enforcing a Child Support Order
When the obligor (payer) under a child support order does not make child support payments as required, Colorado law provides multiple mechanisms to assist the obligee (recipient) in collecting delinquent child support payments and ensuring that the obligor continues to support the children in the future as required under the child support order. Below is a discussion of some of the child support enforcement mechanisms available under Colorado law.
An income assignment is a court order requiring the obligor’s employer to make payments directly to the obligee. Income assignments are automatic and immediate for child support obligations. To activate the immediate and automatic income assignment, the obligee must serve a notice to withhold income upon the employer by first class mail or, in some cases, by electronic service. The notice to withhold income must include a certified copy of the support order and specific information set forth at C.R.S. §14-14-111.5(4).
An income assignment has priority over any garnishment, attachment, or lien. Once activated, the income assignment is a continuing assignment that stays in effect and is binding on the employer unless and until the employer receives further notice from the obligee, the child support enforcement unit, or the court.
Contempt proceedings can be a very effective method for ensuring that the obligor complies with his or her child support obligations. Colorado law provides for two types of contempt proceedings and sanctions: remedial and punitive. Remedial sanctions are designed to compel the obligor to comply with the child support order. An obligor receiving remedial sanctions may cure the sanctions by complying with the child support order that was violated. Punitive sanctions are criminal in nature and designed to punish the obligor for conduct that is offensive to the court. An obligor receiving punitive contempt sanctions may not cure the sanctions and must serve out the punishment ordered by the court.
A contempt proceeding is initiated by filing a motion supported by an affidavit showing that the obligor has willfully failed to comply with a prior court order. The court may then order a citation to be issued to the obligor instructing him or her to appear in court to show cause why he or she should not be punished. If the obligor fails to appear for the contempt hearing, the court may issue a warrant for his or her arrest.
If the obligor has the present ability to pay child support, he or she may be fined or imprisoned until payment is made. The court may also order the obligor to pay court costs and reasonable attorney fees in connection with the contempt proceeding.
Typically, child support consists of a monthly payment from the obligor to the obligee. These periodic payments automatically become final judgments as soon as they are due and not paid, and 12% interest begins to accrue on each unpaid child support installment from the date it was due. To enforce this immediate judgment, the obligee must file a verified entry of judgment with the court that issued the support order. This verified entry of judgment must set forth the period of time that the judgment covers and the total amount of child support due for that period. The obligee may then enforce the judgment by placing liens on the obligor’s property (see below) and garnishing the obligor’s income and bank accounts. Child support garnishments have priority over other types of garnishments and the obligee can collect 50% to 65% (depending on the circumstances) of the obligor’s disposable income.
Once the verified entry of judgment is in place, the obligee may obtain a writ of execution and seize the obligor’s real and personal property such as homes and cars to satisfy the debt. The obligee can often have the sheriff enter the obligor’s homes and businesses and seize non-exempt property to satisfy the debt.
In cases where a family is receiving or has received benefits under Title IV-D of the federal Social Security Act, a child support obligation becomes a judgment when it is due and not paid, and a lien is automatically created against the obligor’s real and personal property. For these purposes, personal property is property that the child support enforcement agency has determined has a net equity value of at least $5,000. The amount of this automatic lien is equivalent to the amount of the support judgment, any interest accrued on the judgment, and the amount of any filing fees.
To evidence this automatic lien, the child support enforcement agency must issue a notice of the lien in compliance with statutory requirements. From the time the lien is recorded in the county records, the lien is an encumbrance on any interest of the obligor in any real property in that county. Liens on property remain in effect for 12 years or until all past due amounts are paid, including any accrued interest and costs. These liens may be extended or renewed indefinitely by re-recording the lien every 12 years. Liens on motor vehicles generally remain in effect for 10 years or until the entire amount of the lien is paid.
Non-automatic liens may also be entered against real property. A lien can be created by filing a certified transcript of the judgment with the county recorder in every county where the obligor owns real estate. The transcript judgment then becomes a lien upon all real property, not exempt from execution, owned by the obligor in that county. Once the lien is filed, the obligor will not be able to sell the property or refinance a loan on the property until the judgment is paid off and the lien is removed.
Child Support Enforcement Agencies
The services available from the county child support enforcement agencies are very effective for enforcing child support obligations. The child support enforcement agencies have the power to intercept the obligor’s tax refunds, lottery proceeds, gambling winnings, unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation payments. They can suspend the obligor’s driver’s license and passport. They can suspend the obligor’s professional, occupational, and recreational licenses. They can report the obligor to credit reporting agencies.
Automatic Deduction for Health Insurance
In Colorado, all child support orders which direct the obligor to provide health insurance for the child must include a provision that directs the obligor’s employer to enroll the child in the employer’s health insurance plan (if any) and to deduct from the obligor’s wages an amount sufficient to provide for health insurance premiums. Notice may be given directly to the insurance provider where the health insurance for the child is not being provided through employment.
Qualified Medical Child Support Orders (QMCSOs)
Under the federal ERISA laws, a state court may order a group health plan to provide to the child of a plan participant or beneficiary any benefits available to the participant or beneficiary under the group health plan. The state court order is called a Qualified Medical Child Support Order. The order requires the provider to enroll the child in the plan or continue health insurance coverage until further court order.
Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)
UIFSA provides for enforcing another state’s child support order in Colorado or enforcing a Colorado child support order in another state.
If you are the obligee under a child support order and the obligor is not abiding by his or her child support obligations, you have multiple options available under Colorado law to ensure that the obligor meets his or her responsibilities and your children are financially supported.