My ex-spouse is refusing to pay court-ordered child support. How can I see to it that the order is enforced?

Under the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984, district attorneys (D.A.s) or state’s attorneys must help you collect child support owed by your ex. Sometimes this means that the D.A. will serve your ex with papers requiring him or her to meet with the D.A. to arrange a payment schedule. These papers usually say that, if the ex refuses to meet or pay, he or she could go to jail.

Federal laws allow the interception of tax refunds to enforce child support orders. Other methods of enforcement include wage attachments, seizing property, suspending the business or occupational license of a payer who is behind on child support, or — in some states — revoking the payer’s driver’s license. Your state’s D.A. may employ any one of these methods in an attempt to help you collect from your ex.

As a last resort, the court that has issued the child support order can hold your ex in contempt and, in the absence of a reasonable explanation for the delinquency, impose a jail term. This contempt power is exercised sparingly in most states, primarily because most judges would rather keep the payer out of jail where he or she has a chance of earning the income necessary to pay the support.

Almost every state has an agency that can help you with child support enforcement at little or no cost to you. For a list of links to these agencies, see