A Unique Penalty for Non-Payment of Child Support....

April 29, 2009
This week in court, I dealt with a Notice of Delinquency, a method of piling on financial penalties for non-payment of Child Support in California.  I bring this up because the remedy is underutilized, little understood, and often unknown.  The judicial officer in this week's case didn't understand the statute and how it is applied, because it is rarely used.  Several lawyers I talked to had never heard of the technique.

Serve such a notice, and penalties of 6% per month can be added, up to a maximum of 12 months [72%].  In a year, that $1000 payment remaining unpaid can be worth more than $1720 to the recipient - all that is needed is a source from which to ultimately collect.  That can happen when the payor has equity in a house, gets a personal injury settlement, inherits from great Aunt Mildred, or wins the Lotto, for example.  Since child support may be collectible forever, a lot can change over time.  Usually, it's an inexpensive tool.  I've used it several times, with great success.

On top of that, the basic support keeps earning interest at 10% per annum as well.  In 3 years the obligation can double, then keep accruing interest indefinitely.  The payor served with the notice has two options:  Pay in full within 30 days of being served, or file a motion to challenge imposition of the penalty.  He or she can claim, for example, that the penalty is unfair because the inability to repay was the result of disability - since timely filing of an objection can result in the court quashing the penalty, it is a waste of time, money, and energy to serve one in every case.

8 or 9 years ago, I served one on a payor who owned a small piece of property in another county - not worth enough to justify the expense of executing on it, but enough to pay back support.  When I had the payor charged with contempt, the keys to the jailhouse door required he bring the support current, with interest and penalties - about $10,000 in back support [two years of non-payment] became $23,000 to my client. [Don't feel sorry for him, he was a real scam artist leaving a trail of financial disasters for others.]

This is one of the little tricks an experienced Certified Family Law Specialist can do for a client.  It is not always useful, such as where the payor is really judgment proof, but often it serves as a reward for the parent who has gone without support for a substantial period. 

These notices came into the law 15 years ago, taught in seminars at the time, and relegated to the back burner by most lawyers - because it isn't new, it isn't taught most seminars any longer.  Old dogs still know old tricks.