Child Support: Four Tips to Help Get Cash from Self-Employed, Ex-Spouse

What’s the easiest way to get child support payments?Have the money taken out of your ex-spouse’s weekly paycheck.

Calledgarnishment of wages,studies have shown itis the most effectiveway tocollect child support in the United States.It’soften used by government agencies– like a community’s child support enforcement office — and by private collection firms who get paid to track down a parent who isbehind on payments. The second most effective way to get your ex to paychild supportis touse a credit bureau, which then works tocollectthe money.

But what if your ex is self-employed?

That’s a question faced by millions ofAmericans, whose former spousessay they don’t make enough money and can’t pay what the courts have ordered them to pay. About three-fourths of all parents who receive child support payments are not getting it. All or any of it. A recently released report by theU.S. Census puts the figure at 77 percent of custodial parents. A poll for, conducted by GFK Roper Public Affairs and Media, put the figure at closer to 70 percent. While most parents who receive court-ordered child support are women, when it comes to non-payment of that money, there is no statistical difference between the sexes in delinquency, accordingto the census.

Without an outside employer, there’ssimply no real way to check if a self-employed ex-spouse is telling the truth about what they’re earning, according to Linda Leitz, a financial advisor from Pinnacle Financial Concepts in Colorado. “That’s a tough situation. Because, what does the person make?”she said. “If I were going to make a triage of most likely to get away with it, someone who is self-employed would be at the top.”

But allowingg noncustodial parents not to pay child support is making a statement –that it doesn’t matter, said Elaine Garretson, a custodial mother who documented her 32 battle for child support payments in the book, “Deadbeat Daddy.” “It says to people not paying, that they could just stop paying because nothing will come of it,” Garretson said. “And though the battle may be difficult, it’s the principle that’s behind it.

Persistence is key in trying to track down delinquent support payments, according toJeffrey Leving, a Chicago attorney who specializes in fathers’ rights. “When you are dealing with people who have a lot of money and are hiding it, you have to be creative and think out of the box,” he said.

Among the tips from experts:

1. Obtain bank records.

One way to track the amount is through a former spouse’s banking records, Leitz said.The court can order a bank attachment, taking money out ofa bank account to be applied toward delinquent support. But even when the business is one that often brings in cash, the noncustodial parent may not put all of the money earned in a bank account, she said. “At some point, it becomes inconvenient and more trouble than it’s worth to keep changing banks if you keep finding them,” she said.

2. Be creative.

Leving, who is the author of “Father’s Rights,” a book that guides fathers through custody disputes, said he rarely relies on regular channels to find money a self-employed deliquent parent has squirreled away. Why? People can lie during financial depositions, or they can hide money outside of banks. Instead, he tries to freeze bank accounts or get lienson property or real estate. If that doesn’t work, he said, he finds new tactics.In one case, a client was trying to getmoney from her ex-husband, who owned aconstruction business. Leving got the husband’s phone records andsubpoenaedthe man’s customersto investigate if they made cash payments and for how much so he couldcalculate how much money the man wasmaking. The case, he said, quickly settled.

3. Do some leg work.

For years, Garretson could not show that her former husband had assetsthat could be attached. She also could not afford an attorney to track her former husband’s finances, so she gave her state child support enforcement agency — which is often unstaffed and overloaded with casesand unable to do the legwork themselves — any information she could retrieve about his employment information, his association memberships, his friends. Anything that could be used to dig up financial information. “You’ve got to do the legwork yourself,” Garretson said. And if the case seems stalled, keep moving it forward, Garretson said.Find the next person to speak with, the next supervisor, the next rung on the hierarchy. “They have to sit up and take notice,” Garretson said. “It’s got to change.”

4. Turn to a private agnecy.

“If that doesn’t work, go to a private agency as a last resort, Garretson said. A 2002 government report on child support collection said that private agencies can be successful in collecting delinquent child support payments when government agencies fail. Eric Rosenkoetter, the executive counsel with SupportKids, one of those agencies, said his agency his agency’s representatives have fewer cases than government representatives, which means they can spend more time on each case. His agency’saverage client hasbeen four years without any child support payments and is owed between $40,000 and $50,000. The client pays the company to find the noncustodial parent and get him or her to make payments. Clients trying to get wages from self-employed parents have an especially difficult time, but it isn’t impossible”, he said. “With individuals like that, there are a number of things we can do…,” Rosenkoetter said. If the person has disappeared, they contact friends or old romances to track them down for payment. When they find a person, they attempt to place liens on property. But the best tool, Rosenkoetter said, is negotiating a payment schedule that worksfor everyone. “We get them to pay not just once, but to continue paying over a period of time,” he said.

About the author: Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization in media law. She has spent almost 15 years in the field of journalism, and she teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national research award for her work. She can be reached at