If your child’s other parent has not paid child support, you have options other than despair. If the other parent owns property, you can place a lien on the real estate. In some states, you must obtain a judgement in court before placing such a lien, while in others such a filing is permissible when a parent is in arrears on court-ordered child support payments.
If you owe back child support, a lien can be placed on any property you owe.
What Filing a Lien Does
A property lien basically is a notice letting everyone involved know that a creditor claims a debt is owed. It is a public record filed with the county records office in the county in which the property is located. Once a lien is filed on the property, one of two things may occur. The other parent may be forced to sell the property to pay the back child support, or come up with the funds in some other manner to have the lien removed. The other option is waiting until the other parent either tries to sell the property or attempts to refinance it. Lenders and any potential buyers soon discover there is a lien on the property, which remains until is it paid off. As long as a lien remains on the property, the title is unclear, and an unclear title means no sale and no refinancing.
Filing a Property Lien
If you’re the custodial parent, you must determine that the other parent actually owns the property. Fortunately, every state maintains a data match system, which requires financial institutions in the state to give child support enforcement agencies a parent’s account information, including mortgages. The agency may then proceed to file the lien. Depending on your state, child support liens may take priority over any other type of lien on the property. That means it requires paying off before any other lien.
Ways to Obtain Back Support
A property lien is not the only way the custodial parent can receive back child support. Other methods include wage garnishment, in which a portion of the parent’s wages are automatically set aside for payments of back child support. A court may order bank accounts or other financial properties seized to remedy back child support payments. If your child’s parent is lucky enough to win a lottery, some of that money must go to child support payments. Federal and state income tax returns may be intercepted and used to pay child support in arrears. While not a way to obtain back child support per se, many states withhold driver’s and professional licenses from those owing back child support. The loss of the ability to drive or to practice one’s occupation is a great incentive to pay back child support.
- Nolo: Property Liens for Unpaid Child Support
- National Council of State Legislators: Child Support 101.2: Enforcing Child Support Orders
- Arizona Department of Economic Security: Enforcement Remedies
- Nolo: What Is a Property Lien?
- USDA. "The Cost of Raising a Child." Accessed January 28, 2020.
- Office of Child Support Enforcement. "Who Owes the Child Support Debt?" Accessed January 28, 2020.
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt's work has appeared in dozens of publications, including Sapling, Zack's, Financial Advisor, nj.com, LegalZoom and The Nest.