MCKEE: How is child support enforced when the payer doesn’t pay?

Published 8:44 am Friday, December 6, 2019

April McKee is the deputy Friend of the Court enforcement caseworker.

When most people think about child support enforcement, the first thing that comes to mind is jailing someone due to failing to pay their child support. This is usually followed by the long-standing argument over how much good does it do to jail someone who is not paying their support?  How does jail help pay someone pay their support? 

At the Cass County FOC, jail is not used as our initial remedy in our support enforcement efforts.  Cases without payment for four to six weeks are eligible for enforcement and these are brought to the attention of an enforcement caseworker either by the payee of support requesting enforcement or by staff reviewing monthly case lists through our state system and identifying cases without payment. Before jail is used as an enforcement option on these cases, the payer of support is set for a show cause hearing. A show cause hearing provides the payer an opportunity to come into the FOC and meet with the enforcement caseworker prior to the case going in front of the FOC referee. The Enforcement Caseworker goes over what the nonpayment issues are, barriers to making regular payments and how to get things back on track. 

In meeting with a payer, the enforcement caseworker will go over some questions with the payer to help assess what the payer’s ability to pay and ability to earn is and to assess what the best method is to get things back on track.  We can assess someone’s ability to pay and ability to earn by looking at both the past and the present circumstances including ongoing medical issues, employment and incarceration history. Another factor to look at is transportation.  Given the county’s rural location with limited access to public transportation available, this can directly impact a payer’s securement and maintenance of employment and ability to pay. In cases where the Enforcement Caseworker has reason to believe that a payer’s ability to pay/earn is decreased, the case is then brought immediately before the referee for a determination on the payer’s ability to pay.

So, when does someone get jailed for failing to pay child support?  A bench warrant is issued when a show cause hearing has been set and the payer fails to appear, or when a payer has attended a show cause hearing and enters into a compliance agreement by signing to the terms of that agreement and fails to follow through with the specific terms of that payment agreement.

I always tell payers, “Communication is the key. It’s much easier to fix things on the front end rather than after things have gotten too far.” 

So, if there is only one take-away I can stress to you communication, communication, communication.   Don’t assume the FOC is aware of your current situation.  The FOC is always willing to informally resolve cases if we can. Keep in mind that cases are also monitored on the state and federal level.  There are additional enforcement activities that are done beyond the county level such as freezing and/or seizure of the delinquent payer’s bank account, IRS tax intercepts, credit reporting and passport denial.  This is why communication with your local FOC office regarding ways to get payments back on track are so important.

Not convinced yet? On average, 90 cases are set for show cause hearings on a monthly basis in Cass County.

In 2018, 84 percent of those scheduled cases were resolved by our enforcement caseworkers rather than taking the case before the referee for final determination.  Enforcement caseworkers work with payers to try to resolve payment issues upfront rather than immediately pursuing a jail sanction. Payers have to do their part and communicate with their local FOC in order for enforcement caseworkers to be aware of a payer’s situation. If you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please send them to the FOC email address: