What to Do if Your Ex Stops Paying Child Support in Utah

What steps should you take if your ex-husband or ex-wife stops paying child support in Utah?  What forms and documents do you need to prepare?  Is it legal to withhold custody until your former spouse starts making payments again?  Child support lawyer Darwin Overson explains the do’s and don’ts of enforcing court orders in Utah.

Can a Person Withhold Child Custody From an Ex-Husband or Ex-Wife in Utah?

Many divorced parents think they can force a former spouse to resume making child support payments by withholding visitation with their children.  It is very important that you do not go down this path, no matter how angry or frustrated you might feel.

Put simply, it is unlawful to withhold visitation or parent time as retaliation for nonpayment of child support (or for any other reason).  Remember, child custody is a court-ordered arrangement, so if you deviate from the terms of your custody plan, you’re essentially ignoring court orders.

You might be thinking, “But so is my ex!”  After all, child support payments are court-ordered, too.  Nonetheless, you don’t have the right to defy court orders simply because your ex-husband or ex-wife is doing the same thing.  Nor would you want to, because the penalties can severe.

Violating or disregarding court orders is an offense called contempt of court, defined simply as “any act involving disrespect to the court or failure to obey its rules or orders.”  Contempt of court can result in a $1,000 fine, plus up to 30 days in jail.  If you think your spouse is in contempt of court, you should seek legal help from a family law attorney.

Contempt of court isn’t the only negative consequence of withholding parent time.  Under Utah Code § 30-3-5(7), “If a petition alleges noncompliance with a parent-time order by a parent… the court may award to the prevailing party costs, including actual attorney fees and court costs incurred by the prevailing party because of the other party’s failure to provide or exercise court-ordered visitation or parent-time.”

How to Enforce a Child Support Judgment in Utah

We’ve established the reasons why you should never violate court orders (even if that’s exactly what your former spouse is doing).  But if you can’t take away parent time, what else are you supposed to do?

Fortunately, Utah’s laws provide divorced parents with a safe, legal method of enforcing court-ordered child support payments.  The judiciary concisely summarizes the process on its website as follows:

“If a party does not obey a court order, the other party may file a motion asking the court to enforce the order.  The enforcement order can include a judgment for money owed.”

So how are you supposed to do that?

The first step is to contact a divorce lawyer who has experience handling Utah custody disputes and the enforcement of judgments.  Your attorney will explain all of your rights and responsibilities, will take care of preparing and filing your legal paperwork, will keep track of important deadlines, and will advocate for your rights as a parent during your hearing in court.  When something as important as getting good financial support for your child is at stake, it’s absolutely critical to have an attorney protecting you and your child’s best interests during the legal proceedings.

The process begins when your attorney files a Motion for an Order to Show Cause.  This motion must be accompanied by a “supporting statement of facts showing the ways in which the other party has failed to obey the court order.”  For example, your supporting statement might list the dates and amounts of missed payments, among other pieces of information and evidence.  Your attorney will help you understand exactly what needs to be included on your statement.

Next, the court will review the Motion and supporting papers to make sure you have a valid claim that warrants further legal action.  Once this has been confirmed, the court will schedule a hearing called a “show cause hearing.”

Your ex-husband or ex-wife must come to the show cause hearing and explain why they feel they should not be held in contempt of court.  If your former spouse is found to be in contempt, they can be ordered to pay up to $1,000 and/or be sent to jail for 30 days, as we mentioned a little earlier.  However, even if the court finds they are not in contempt, they can still be ordered to comply with the court’s child support requirements.  This is called a judgment.

Once the court enters a judgment to reflect the past-due amount, it’s up to you to collect the judgment if your former spouse does not voluntarily come forth with payment.  Depending on the circumstances, there are many debt collection methods you could potentially use.  For example, you may be able to attach a judgment lien to your ex-wife or ex-husband’s property.  Again, an attorney will be able to help you with this process.

If you need help getting child support payments or resolving a custody dispute in Utah, call attorney Darwin Overson at (801) 758-2287 to set up a free and completely confidential legal consultation.  Darwin handles cases in Salt Lake City and throughout the rest of the state.