When and When Not to Go to Court to Enforce a Custody or Support Order

If an ex is not paying the support they are supposed to pay or they are ignoring court-ordered obligations, it can be very tempting to rush back to court to force them into compliance. While this can sometimes be the right choice, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney first, as there are often unintended consequences of pursuing enforcement.

For help with support or custody modifications in Maryland, call the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A.

Child Support Modification

Don’t expect to get child support modified just because you think it should be. Generally, you will need to show a material change in circumstances. What is material? In most cases, if there has been a change in income for the parent paying support, whether up or down, then a court might increase or reduce child support obligations.

Child Support Enforcement

Modification is a change, but enforcement is going to court to have the court take actions against someone for not paying as previously ordered. If you petition the court to enforce an obligation, be prepared to prove that you have not received payment, and be prepared for the likelihood that the non-paying individual may have a valid reason. You may petition for enforcement of child support obligations, only to discover that when the other parent comes to court, he or she is able to effectively request a reduction in their obligation due to loss of a job or a serious life change. In this way, enforcement can sometimes backfire.

Keep in mind that under Section 12-104 of the Maryland Statutes, child support will not be made retroactive to before the date of petitioning for a change, and you must be able to show a material change in circumstances.

Custody Modification

Don’t make the mistake of conflating custody with support. The two are separate and unrelated. Just because a person is failing to make support payments does not mean custody can be withheld. This may be used as evidence in an enforcement proceeding, but you should never try to withhold visitation or parenting time to punish or coerce child support payments. By the same token, one should never threaten to withhold payment of support in order to influence or change custody or visitation.

When to Go to Court

If you are the primary physical custodian and the non-custodial parent is failing to make child support payments but has the ability to do so, you may need to ask the court to enforce the obligation. You should always try to work it out amicably without court intervention, and document those attempts. But do not allow a non-paying parent to go too long without paying. Once they get substantially behind on support, they may never be able to catch up. For many, they simply give up and stop paying altogether. While it may be emotionally gratifying to see an ex losing rights and facing jail time for nonpayment, it does nothing to help the child.

In general, you should use court enforcement to make sure there are sufficient funds to raise the child. It should not be used as a weapon to punish or harass an ex. For help deciding whether court enforcement is right for your situation, contact the Glen Burnie child support lawyer at the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A. in Maryland today.


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