My Ex Is Not Making Child Support Payments Now I’m Running Short!

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Upside down rubber duck floating in water signifying being underwater due to lack of child support payments

When your ex stops making child support payments your initial reaction is to want to take him/her to court. You’re stung by how horribly unfair it is that your ex is “getting away with” not doing what s/he is supposed to do. You’re also furious that now YOU have to struggle to make ends meet because your budget has a hole in it the size of Texas!

Before you let your anger drive you to do things that will only make your situation worse: Stop!

Running into court before you really understand what your doing can cost you more money than what you’ve lost in support.

That’s not to say that you should just forget about child support and soldier on without it. However, if you do your homework before you dash off to court, you’ll have a much better chance at seeing real success.

Gavel in front of a stack of court orders (documents)

The First Steps to Take When Your Ex Isn’t Making Child Support Payments

 1. Look at What Your Court Order Says.

Child support obligations don’t get automatically imposed just because someone filed for divorce. To collect child support, you need a court order that specifically says that one parent is required to pay the other parent X dollars per week in child support.

Until you’ve got that court order, your spouse or ex has no legal obligation to pay you child support. (That’s not to say every parent doesn’t have a moral obligation to support their kids. But you can’t enforce a moral obligation in court!)

If you’ve just filed for divorce and you don’t have that kind of an order in place, you may need to get one asap. The same thing is true if you were never married to your child’s other parent and you now want that parent to pay child support. If your ex isn’t paying support, step number one is to get a court order requiring him/her to do so.

2. Figure Out What’s Going On.

Before you drag your ex back to court for not making child support payments, it helps to know WHY your ex stopped paying. (NOTE: Your initial reaction will be to assume that your ex is just jerking your chain on purpose. Don’t assume! Ask.)

Yes, this means you need to have a conversation with your ex.  If that’s not possible, then text your ex or send an email. If your ex doesn’t respond, so be it. At least you tried.

If your ex does respond, ask why your ex stopped making the support payments. (Try to be nice about it. You may be spitting mad, but screaming at your ex is not likely to get you the answers you’re looking for.) Did your ex just get fired or laid off? Is your ex sick? Or, is your ex just not paying you?

If your ex has fallen upon hard times, you may want to cut him/her some slack. Meanwhile, see if you can get your ex to make partial payments for a while. (Some money is better than no money.) On the other hand, if your ex is just being a jerk, knowing that will help you when you do take him/her back to court.

Red word "Budget" with a belt tightening around it.

3. Develop a Plan To Make Ends Meet.

When you’re living on the edge, losing your child support is often enough to throw you over. Even though it’s not fair that you’re in this position, you have to find a way to survive. So, the sooner you can find a way to fill the hole in your budget (at least temporarily) the better.

That may mean that you have to take extra hours at work. That may mean you have to cut back on your other expenses. All of that will suck. But, it’s life.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you can take your ex back to court and get paid your past-due child support in a week. Courts don’t work that way! Collecting your overdue child support could take you months, or years. In the meantime, you’ve got to find a way to pay your bills as best you can.

4. Talk to a Lawyer

Before you go charging off to court, you’ve got to know your chances of winning. While it may seem obvious to you that you should win because your ex didn’t pay the support s/he was ordered to pay, the law is full of loopholes. (This is part of the reason why knowing why your ex stopped paying is helpful.)

If your ex just got diagnosed with cancer and can’t work, taking him/her back to court to pay child support may accomplish exactly nothing. As a matter of fact, it can put you in an even worse position. That’s because, once you’re back in court, your ex may then decide to petition for a child support reduction in light of his/her illness. So you could end up collecting very little AND becoming entitled to even less child support moving forward.

You also need to know what pursing your ex in court will likely cost you. Lawyers are expensive. While a judge may (or may not!) order your ex to pay for your lawyer in the end, most lawyers will require you to pay them up front. So, you’ve got to find a way to come up with the money at the start.

You also need to assess your situation from a cost/benefit perspective. If a lawyer will charge you $5000 to go to court, but your ex only owes you $2000, going to court might not make sense. (At least, it might not make sense right now.)

Figure with magnifying glass searching for child support payments.

5. Investigate Your Options

If hiring a private lawyer is too expensive, you might want to consider contacting your local child support enforcement agency.

Every state has a government agency that is charged with collecting child support payments. (In Illinois the State’s Attorneys’ Offices are charged with that responsibility.) Those agencies will often represent you for free.  The problem, of course, is that those agencies are typically swamped. So, while you may get a lawyer “for free,” going through the court process with that lawyer could take you two or three times as long as it would with a private attorney.

Another option may be to hire a private child support collection agency. These agencies will collect your back child support for a fee (usually 35% of whatever is collected.) They will also promise you faster service than the government agencies. But using these agencies isn’t always the best solution.

While some private collection agencies are reputable, others are not. What’s more, each agency has its own contract that it will require you to sign. Some of those contracts are automatically self-renewing. Others contain clauses in their contract that might not be in your best interest. So, before you sign on with any private agency, make sure you carefully read their contract and know what you are doing.

(NOTE: Once you sign on with a private collection agency, the government agency will probably be allowed to close your case. So, if you later decide to go back to the government agency, you will probably have to start all over again.)

Frequently Asked Questions About Collecting Child Support

Once you’ve decided to pursue your ex in court, it helps to understand how the court system works. That will help you make sure your expectations are realistic. It will also save you an enormous amount of frustration as your case progresses.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about collecting child support payments.

Crying man in jail for not paying child support

1. Can I get my ex thrown in jail for not paying child support?

 Maybe. If your ex is purposely not paying support when s/he has the means to pay it, then sometimes a judge will hold your ex in contempt of court, and throw him/her in jail. But, it’s rare. That’s for a good reason.

Getting your ex thrown into jail for not paying support may seem like a great idea. But, when your ex is in jail, s/he isn’t working. So throwing someone in jail for not paying support is usually counter-productive. (On the other hand, you’d be surprised at how fast some people can come up with money when they find themselves in handcuffs being led off to jail!)

2. What are the potential penalties for not making child support payments?

 A lot of penalties can be imposed on someone who purposely fails to pay court-ordered child support. Government support agencies usually have the authority to seek any or all of these penalties. Private attorneys may not always be able to get all of these penalties imposed on a deadbeat child support payor.

Here are some of the penalties that may be imposed for not paying child support. (NOTE: You should check with an attorney in your state to see which of these penalties may be available to you.)

  • Your ex’s wages can be garnished;
  • Your ex’s tax refund can be intercepted and paid to you;
  • Liens can be placed against any real estate your ex owes;
  • You can report the debt to credit bureaus (that will affect your ex’s credit);
  • You can freeze your ex’s bank accounts;
  • Your ex’s driver’s license or professional licenses can be suspended (in some states);
  • Your ex can be held in contempt of court;
  • Fines, penalties, and interest on past-due support can get added to what your ex owes you;
  • Your ex might be ordered to pay any attorney’s fees you incurred in chasing him/her down for past-due child support;
  • In appropriate cases, your ex can be thrown in jail.
Man in jeans with empty pockets has no money to pay child support.

 3. My ex is threatening to go bankrupt on his/her past-due child support obligations. Am I screwed?

No. You can’t discharge past due child support payments in bankruptcy. So, your ex can file for bankruptcy. But, s/he can’t go bankrupt on the support s/he owes you. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that you’ll get paid any time soon, either. But at least your ex’s debt won’t be washed away.)

4. What happens if my ex doesn’t have the money to pay what s/he owes?

 You can’t get blood from a turnip. If your ex truly has no income and no assets to pay you support, you may be out of luck … for now.  But, if your ex ever does have an income, or ever does acquire any assets, then you can go after that income or those assets to pay the child support arrearage.

5. If my ex isn’t paying child support, why should I let him/her see the kids?

Child support and parenting time (visitation) are separate obligations. It doesn’t matter whether your ex pays child support or not. You can not deny him/her time with the kids.

If you refuse to let your ex see the kids, chances are YOU will be in contempt of court, too. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t do that to your kids.



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  • I am just at the beginning of my divorce it’s taken me 10 years of living with my controlling and bullying husband finally I have overcome my fight with depression and anxiety to make this break it’s not been easy as I own my house from my first husband who died now he wants half even though he never paid any mortgage payments he is only paying a small amount of child maintenance as he gets a low income but is made up with cash in hand he said good luck proving his cash in hand don’t know how to prove that he is getting cash in hand

    • Unless you paid the mortgage from renting the house, you paid the mortgage with money that was half his.

      You have to be careful with the ‘He never paid for the mortgage line” It is not like a spouse ever paid any money to the other spouses retirement plan, right? Should that be separate money? Of course not.

      If your first house was paid in full by the first husband and he died and you paid it off with life insurance, then sure.. its 100% yours. If you paid it for 10 years married to your current spouse then he should get a share of it.

    • It is ridiculous the way that laws are made! I don’t and never will understand why you have to allow visitations when child support punta are not being made specially when is because the father just decides not to. So it is said that it is for the children well being correct ? Ok so he don’t pay and we are almost in the street but yet I have to let him see the kids or I’ll be in trouble as well, how come the non paying parent don’t get in trouble and all they do is suspend their license and take away passport well let me say this men don’t care cause they are garbage. We the custodial parents on the other hand can’t tell our children hey sorry but today I have no money to feed you or buy you medicine you have to wait. It is very sad this child support should be enforced same way the laws enforce other things.

    • In regards to fighting for back pay- is there a difference between “child support” and “court ordered payments”? The court orders state he is to pay half childcare, insurance (child is on my insurance), medical/dental and educational expenses. He decided to stop paying in 2013 just because he didn’t trust that all the documentation I provided to him with the actual numbers were real. I’ve been laying everything ever since and have taken multiple jobs to cover.

      • What you’re asking is a legal question. I can’t give legal advice outside of the State of Illinois. (I’d also need to see the actual document you’re referring to in order to know what it means.) Sorry.

        You might want to contact a good divorce lawyer in your area to see what s/he says. That way you can be totally clear about what is involved. You can also get an idea from the lawyer what s/he would charge you to try to collect on what you are owed. That way at least you’ll know what your options are.

        Finally, check with your local State’s Attorney or Child Support Enforcement Agency. You may be able to get some free legal help to collect this debt as well.

        Hope that helps.


    • First you have to legally establish he is the father. Then you have to get a court order or an administrative order requiring him to pay support. If he doesn’t pay in spite of the order, then you have to take him to court.

      Unfortunately, all of this can be complicated. How you do it depends on the state you live in. You really need a lawyer for this. I can’t give you legal advice online, or outside of the state of Illinois. You really need to talk to a lawyer in your area.



  • I filed for divorce and received a court order for child support and spousal support.. soon after my ex “lost” his job and is now getting paid “under the table”… what should my next move be?

    • Oh my! I think your next step is to get a lawyer in your area who can help you put together a strategy for getting your ex to pay the support he is supposed to be paying. Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of question I can answer online in a blog. So, talk to a lawyer in your area. (And, yes, it’s going to cost you money to go after your spouse. So part of what you have to decide is whether you are more likely to collect more money in support than what you spend to get your ex to pay it. Sorry!)

      • Laws are set for failure from moms. The fathers have all the power. Your advice sucks and so does the Family Court system. If these moms had money to get lawyers, don’t you think they would? If they’re not getting child support, how the heck are they supposed to afford a lawyer? Why is it that a lawyer is not necessary for a husband to file for a modification, but if he does not pay his child-support, the mother Hass to hire an attorney? Why are the laws tilted in favor of these deadbeat fathers? What about the children’s rights?

        • The only way to get things going is to file with the state on your own. In Louisiana is $25 and they eventually garnish their wages. Lawyers can’t make them pay.

        • You dont have to have a lawyer.
          You can pay for one, and if you win, you will get your lawyer fees paid.
          Either that, or you can get free aid at the county to file. It takes a little longer, as most free things there is a line.

  • Hello! My sisters husband is a shyster, sorry to say. He has a long list of fake businesses, and plying money from people illegally. Because of this he owes over $800,000 on their house. He owes back taxes, he owes people money. She had no idea that he was doing these things until someone showed up in their yard demanding that he pay up. She left him. She lives in an apt, with their three almost grown children. He is supposed to pay rent and child support, and he is supposed to go through the DOR for the child support. Instead he gives her money, and then asks for her signature. I told her to not sign anything because of his past history he could easily use that to forge documents. He doesn’t often the pay rent. She has been sick, and so currently is not working. She had her own art business at their property, which she can now no longer use. He is so good at this that he is trying to make it look like my sister is crazy. There have been two times when she thought he may also be trying to kill her. That she can’t really prove, but he is so sneaky that I wouldn’t put anything past him at this point. We grew up with him, we loved him, but now he is a mess. She has even called the FBI on him, but no one seems to care. He involves himself with wealthy people and then basically steals from them, by having them participate in his wild schemes. Today he left for California….yet he can’t pay her the rent, we are pretty sure he has no actual bank account, he put his name under his 22 year old sons car insurance, She needs a job, and she needs lawyer help. She has been to one but they cost so much, and some seem to do nothing for her. Any ideas? She lives in Mass. Thank you.

    • Actually, it seems like you already know the answers.

      First, your sister married a louse. He lies, cheats and steals from everyone. No matter what she does, he will treat her the same way he treats everyone else. Human behavior is consistent. So, if your sister expects that she will be able to make her husband pay her rent, pay child support, or be honest in pretty much any way, she’s only kidding herself. Yes, miracles happen. But, chances are, unless he gets struck by lightning, he’s not going to change his ways.

      Second, lawyers are expensive. And there is no lawyer on the planet that is going to get this guy to man up and do what is right. But a good lawyer will be able to advise her about her options and, hopefully, minimize the damage her husband has likely done to her credit and her life. Your sister has to decide whether that’s worth the money to her.

      Finally, you’re also right that your sister needs a job. I don’t mean to sound cold here, but her husband is NEVER going to support her. She can get a court order that says he has to pay her a million dollars a year. But, if he doesn’t pay it (and he won’t) she’s going to be chasing him for the rest of her life. Honestly, is it worth it?

      I know this may sound harsh, but, at this point, the best thing she can do is to get a divorce, get a job, and try to put her life back together herself. Doing all of that won’t be easy, and it will probably take a long time. But, realistically, what other choices does she have?

      In the end, you are stuck divorcing the person you married. As I said before, she married a louse.



  • My ex purposely not paying child for years but he is allow driving around and travel by plane to make cash freely But the court didn’t do much. What can I do get him pay child support?

    • Unfortunately, the only way to enforce a child support order is by going to court. I don’t know if you had an attorney represent you when you tried to get child support, but I would suggest you talk to an attorney in your area and get some legal advice. That’s all you can do.

  • If your children’s father; who is on child support, is remarried and he loses his job is his spouse responsible for his child support payments?

    • That’s a legal question. You’re going to have to ask a lawyer in your area about that. I can’t give legal advice outside the state of Illinois. Sorry.

      I can tell you that, in general, if there is a court order requiring someone to do something (like pay child support) the person to whom that order applies generally obligated to abide by that order unless and until the court changes it. I can also say that, in general, court orders can’t bind someone who is not a party to the case or who the court does not have jurisdiction over. To find out how those legal rules would apply to your case you need to consult with a lawyer in your area.


  • Are we supposed to assume here that the custodial parent is putting their share in and not using the child support for dates and spa treatments? With no accountability at all for what they receive in payments for custodial parents, how do we know? So many custodial parents are getting “pay-per-view” cash on top of child support, it’s a big money maker.

      • My ex husband has stopped paying child support over 10 years ago. He said he stopped paying because he isn’t making any income because he has been going to school to be an EMT the last 10 years. He thinks I’m stupid because it’s very obvious he has money. He lives in an apartment. He’s buying a house with this new lady friend of his and….I just don’t know what to do. Please help.

        • I wish I could help you, but what you really need is a good divorce attorney in your area. It sounds like you need to take your husband back to court to collect child support. An attorney in your area can help you with that.

          Also, just so you know, there may be state agencies that will help you collect past due child support. They might provide you with an attorney free of charge. I don’t know where you live, so I can’t tell you which agency you should consult. But check it out. You may be able to get some free legal help and (hopefully) some past-due child support as well!


  • My ex was recently fired from his job and wants me to sign a stipulation lowering the child support amount until he finds a new job. He states that once he finds a new job, we can sign another stipulation to increase the amount back to what it was. I am hesitant to do this. He also states that he can go to jail for not being able to pay the original court ordered support amount. Is this true and do you have any advice?

    • What you are asking are legal questions. I suggest you talk to a lawyer in your area about this. It should be a quick, 20 minute consultation.

      Also, don’t sign anything until you talk to a lawyer. You have no way of knowing what the legal ramifications of signing that document may be unless you get some legal advice about it.


  • My ex stopped paying child support 4 months early, this was 3 yrs ago. She still owes around $1000 and I have been patient and understanding about her financial situation. She just sold her house and was telling me that she was getting $20,000 (give or take) in profit and was putting it into a retirement fund etc. and has no extra $. When I asked if she was going to pay the back child support I was told to “sell your stuff you angry man” and some other nasty comments.I busted my ass to make sure my child graduated from high school. The child support folks said for a fee they will open up the case and take any actions needed, I guess I’m asking if I should push it or move on?


    • I wish I could answer you, but that’s not my call to make. Only you can decide whether it’s worth it to pursue your back child support or not.

      Obviously, you will have to pay a fee to open up a case against your ex. But if it will cost you more in attorney’s fees and costs than what you will ever collect from your ex, then starting a case might not make sense. In the end, of course, it’s up to you.

      I know I’m not being much help here. The bottom line is that it’s your decision.

  • My ex wont pay for our son or see our son. He pays and sees his daughter whom he has with another woman. She also has a restraining order on him. Lol. But my son gets nothing! Im struggling while he works a job thats off the books and he pays what he wants when he wants! I haven’t gotten a payment in years!

    • I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could do to help. But if your ex is working for a job off the books, getting money from him will be hard. The only thing you can do is try to get a good divorce lawyer in your area to help you. (Sorry!)


  • I have accomplished court proceedings! I got the judges signed decision! But…my ex hasn’t made his first three payments that were ordered, he hasn’t signed the parenting allocation, and just recently announced he has a baby due soon. He never mentioned a baby due throughout the court proceedings. Am I going to be at square one again?

  • Is my ex liable for back child support? He retired and then bought a business. He says it hasn’t been as profitable as he’d liked. It took some effort to get him to communicate. Which I understand. But now he makes a payment one month then goes a month or two without. He only has another year of support but he’s also behind 6 months at this point.

    • I’m sorry, but you’re asking a legal question that I’m not able to answer online. You’ll have to check with a family law attorney in your area for the answer.

  • Hello Karen, how are you?
    I would like to ask you if in case my ex stops making the child support payments, instead taking him to court, can I take straight to the IRS?
    I appreciate your attention.

    • I’m afraid that’s a legal question you’ll have to ask a lawyer in your area. I can’t give you legal advice online or outside of the state of Illinois. In general, however, child support orders are either court orders or administrative orders. You have to go to court to enforce a court order. To enforce an administrative order you have to go back to the administrative body that entered it.

      Hope that helps.



  • Hi,
    My ex husband isn’t paying child support for the last two years. In the beginning he paid higher amount than the court order says. But now he said he paid me more for few years so he doesn’t need to pay anymore. Can he do that?

  • My ex lost his job and I was unemployed, so I am getting spousal and child support. If I get a job before he does, can he take away the payments? He has a lot in assets, but no income currently.

  • I have to agree with one writer, this advice is terrible, and shows why the family court system, and almost ALL lawyers, judges and law guardians involved do not give a damn about you, your children, or your ability to provide for them. Women and mother’s need to know the truth about family court- there is NO PROTECTION for mothers and children. Physically or financially. My ex could medically neglect my children, emotionally abuse them, not pay child support, it didn’t matter to the judge. I worked 3 jobs to support them and love them and provide for them, and I was told I would lose custody because I was working too much! ?! Can you imagine that EVER being told to a man!? You sound just like every other cold hearted, narcissistic lawyer or court appointed anything- only out for the money and what little power you yield with destruction. Basically you are saying there is NO HOPE of ever getting child support, but women every day are losing custody of there children to horrific fathers supported by lawyers like you.

    • My wife is presently going through the same thing with her ex. He was recently ordered to pay $24 a month for 3 kids in her custody. I dont see how that is even possible. He works full time, enjoys many luxuries in life, frequently travels, and doesn’t have to pay any support for his children leaving her bearing it all. I’m a man and this biased order is not fair. I wish there was some way to complain with results to these issues because this judicial neglect needs to stop. Fathers need to be held more accountable, especially those mentally stable and financially capable to pay!

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