Let me say this loud enough for the people in the back to hear. State-run child support enforcement agencies are not your only option when you have arrears to collect. In addition to options such as your family law attorney, Child Support Enforcement (“CSE”) might be what you hear about the most, but they are not the only game in town. By law, you are able to work on behalf of yourself and enforce your own child support order. This is called self-representation. You might also hear it referred to as being pro sé.
Depending on your situation, CSE could very well be the best option for you. They could also be your worst nightmare and that might already be the case. Knowing your options, and the benefits and drawbacks of each of them could be the game-changer between whether you collect or not and how long it takes for you to collect. You could wait around for decades to see if the system ever works for you or it could be better to pick up the gauntlet and collect your child support arrears on your own. If whatever method you have been using has not worked for you, if nothing else has succeeded, if your arrears are increasing, and you continue to get lame excuses for why they can’t find him or why they can’t determine whether he has money or not, you might want to reconsider your options. At the end of the day, you and your kids are the only ones who will benefit from your collection or not. Who is ever going to care more about it than you? Let’s take a look at what this might look like.
Traditional Enforcement Methods – Contempt of Court
- suspending drivers, professional, and recreational licenses
- intercepting tax returns
- passport suspension
- bench warrants
What to Expect
Collecting through your local CSE can generally work well if your ex has a steady job where they can find his employer, garnish what he owes you from his paychecks and deposit it into your account. Most cases like this require very little work on their part and involve pushing an administrative button or two.
If your case involves finding him or where he works that’s when the problem kicks in. It’s not uncommon for CSE to report that they cannot find dad to get him to pay and that mom should do this legwork herself and then report back to them or find out where he is working or what assets he has. We have known cases where they have reported that dad cannot be found and later he is found to be working for the very state that was “looking” for him. Yet they will advise you to go and search for him anyway. In other words – if you think that you can do a better job go find him yourself, find his money yourself, find out who is hiding his assets yourself. Considering that this is not uncommon at all, at some point, you might have to wonder if you should do it yourself.
Self-Represented Litigant a/k/a Pro Sé
Every method of collecting arrears available to you through CSE is also available if you are pro sé other than intercepting tax returns, which is only available through your local CSE office. That said, while CSE can go after your ex’s assets through liens, they are unlikely to. Finding bank accounts, real estate property, and other assets like boats to put a lien on takes more time than your caseworker probably has or wants to take, not to mention that the systems that they use to search leave a lot to be desired. It’s no wonder that many mothers grow tired of working with their CSE office. Like many government workers, child support caseworkers are overworked and underpaid. You may not get updates on your case for months, and they leave you in the dark. To say that the process can be frustrating is probably the understatement of the year.
If you learn enough about the self-represented process you’ll learn that when you are a self-represented litigant (pro sé), you’ll have more control over your case and you’ll also be able to explore options for going after self-employed dads, such as till-tapping for cash-based business owners (barber shops, landscaping companies, musicians, etc), and going after their business assets and receivables.
You probably know your ex better than most anyone, so when you go after your arrears on your own, you can decide what enforcement methods will work best for you. You can focus on what method is going to be most effective, not just what is easiest.
What to Expect
Being in full control of your case, you’ll know where your case stands at all times. No more miscommunication or outdated notes from your caseworker. You know all the correct information is applied to your case. You’ll know the stones that have been turned and which ones are left to go. If you are interested in collecting large amounts of cash at one time from bank accounts, non-banking accounts (Venmo, Paypal, etc), investment accounts, etc. There is no better way.
On the flip side – managing your own child support collection case is hard work. It takes lots of time, effort, know-how, and determination. If you’re the can-do type of person – this might be something you want to look into.
This is not intended to be legal advice. For legal advice specific to your case, you should contact an attorney.