What Are the Penalties for Missing Child Support Payments in California?

Hossein Berenji, Jul 02, 2024

Most parents prioritize providing for their children. When parents are divorced, separated, or were never married, the court sometimes has to intervene and impose an order of child support against one of the parents–usually the parent who is not the primary caretaker of the child. 

For many parents subject to an order of child support, paying their monthly child support is not a problem. However, there are many parents who miss paying their child support payments. When this happens, the court often has to step in, and the penalties for missing child support payments in California can be steep.

If you missed paying (or receiving) a child support payment, you may need a California family law attorney to assist you before the court has to impose an order to enforce the child support obligation or penalties for nonpayment. 

Why Might Someone Miss a Child Support Payment?

When a parent is subject to an order of child support, they usually have to pay a specific amount of money at regular intervals according to a schedule designated by the court. A very standard schedule is to pay a specific amount every month. 

The amount is generally related to the payor’s income such that the monthly payment is a reasonable amount that the parent should be able to pay. But not every parent pays every month. Unpaid child support is also referred to as “child support arrears.”

Some parents do not pay their scheduled child support payment and owe arrears, even though they have sufficient money and are able to pay. Other parents may have a life event occur (such as losing a job) that causes them to miss payments. Ultimately, each case is different and involves unique facts and circumstances.

What Are the Consequences of Missing Child Support Payments? 

Beginning January 1, 2024, California implemented amendments to the California Child Support Automation System, which is a program of new laws designed to more effectively monitor and enforce child support orders and obligations. 

In addition to normal penalties afforded through the standard court process, the automated program provides additional methods to facilitate child support payments from parents who have missed payments. Here are some of the policies and penalties that may apply:

Criminal Charges

California Family Code section 17400 allows the appropriate county child support agency to work with the local district attorney to bring a criminal action to enforce child support obligations.

Earnings Assignment

California Family Code section 17420 allows the court to issue an “earnings assignment order.” This means that a portion of the payor’s earnings may be garnished and assigned to the other parent to satisfy arrearages or any future child support payments.

Health Insurance Coverage

California Family Code section 17420 provides that a court may order a parent to obtain health insurance coverage for a child.

Withholding Orders

California Code of Civil Procedure section 706.030 provides for the issuance of withholding orders, such as a tax refund or workers’ comp payments.

Denial of Licenses, Certificates, Registrations, Credentials, and Permits 

California Family Code section 17510 allows a state agency to deny a person a license, registration, permit, or any other authorization for the following:

  • Any business, occupation, or professional license (law, medical, real estate, and others);
  • Operate a commercial motor vehicle;
  • Appointment as a notary public;
  • A driver’s license issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles;
  • Any commercial fishing license issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife; and
  • Any license used for recreational purposes. 

Real and Personal Property Liens 

California Family Code sections 17523 and 17523.5 allow the court to enforce liens against the real and personal property of the obligor parent.

California Family Code section 17522 allows the court to serve a lien by levy on any person who has in their possession or control any personal property belonging to the parent owing delinquent child support or who owes the delinquent parent a debt. 

Liquidation of Financial Assets

California Family Code section 17522.5 allows any financial institution holding assets of the delinquent parent to liquidate the assets to satisfy the delinquency.


Pursuant to California Family Code section 1218.5, a parent may be held in contempt of court for failure to pay child support. Each month for which payment has not been paid in full may be punished as a separate count of contempt. For each count, the parent may be fined or imprisoned. 


Pursuant to California Family Code section 1219, a parent may be imprisoned until he or she satisfies a delinquent child support obligation.

An Experienced Child Support Attorney Can Help

Paying child support obligations is a legal and moral responsibility. The ongoing implementation of the new California Child Support Automation System opens doors to more efficient ways to secure child support payments from delinquent parents, ranging from withholding income and other benefits to suspending or denying licenses and imprisonment.

If you either owe or are owed delinquent child support payments, you need an experienced family law attorney who understands the new laws regarding child support enforcement. Get in touch for a case review to get started.

Contact a Beverly Hills Family Law Lawyer Today

If you’re going through a divorce, you need a strong team on your side fighting for your rights. Call Berenji & Associates Divorce Lawyers today to know how we can assist you.

Beverly Hills Office
9465 Wilshire Blvd #333
Beverly Hills CA 90212
(310) 271-6290

Los Angeles Office
550 S. Hill Street STE 1467
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 985-3007