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Collection Cases in Family Law – FAQs

The subject of collecting and enforcing family law orders arises daily in our law practice.  We have handled many cases involving enforcing and collecting on monies owed under a divorce judgment or other family law order.  This area of the law can be extremely complex and costly to pursue.  Many divorce and family law attorneys are not skilled in this area and either do not handle these cases or try to handle these cases and do not achieve acceptable results because they do not have the requisite skill and financial backing to pursue these cases.

We have handled these cases extensively with outstanding results (of course, we must caution you that every case is different and we would never promise or guarantee a particular outcome in any particular case – we can merely point to our experience and track record in handling these cases successfully across California.)  Because we are Certified Family Law Specialists (CFLS) and have been accredited as experts by the State Bar of California in the area of family law, we feel confident in answering the most common questions that arise in collection cases.  We have done that for you below. This page is not intended to comprise legal advice.

What Services are Effective to Collect Past Due Child Support or Spousal Support

We offer legal services to collect on any past due family law order or judgment, including:

  • Child support arrears
  • Spousal support arrears
  • Equalization payment judgments
  • Orders to pay other family law expenses.

The most effective method to collect on past due family law judgments depends on the facts and circumstances of a particular case.  Some methods to help collect monies owed include:

  • Writs of execution
  • Filing and recording Abstract of Judgment documents
  • Filing for sanctions
  • Filing a motion to determine arrears
  • Filing for contempt

When there are potential assets to collect on past due amounts owed, we determine how to marshal those assets to pay our client’s arrears.  We have also collected on support arrears when the support obligor is about to receive an inheritance or trust distribution.

Are Contingency Fee Agreements Allowed in Family Law?

Yes, with certain limitations.  Contingency fee agreements are not allowed if the agreement would “promote” divorce in any fashion.  For example, California attorneys are not allowed to agree to take a certain percentage of a divorce settlement from the parties’ assets.  This rule does not apply to collection cases because the parties already divorced or already have an order for support or other obligation they are supposed to be following.  Merely collecting on a past-due sum of support does not promote divorce in any way, so it is permissible.  We have had many agreements with our clients that states we are not paid unless the client is paid from the collection proceeds.

Can the Other Party be Held in Contempt of Court for Failing to Pay?

Yes, it is a possibility.  Any time a party wilfully violates a court order they may be subject to contempt charges.  There are two very general requirements for a contempt to be successful.  First, the person must have been served with notice and had an opportunity to be heard at the hearing where a financial order was entered.  Second, they must have had the ability to pay.  As an example, if John is ordered to pay $1000 per month in child support but lost his job and only earns $900 per month, it is likely that John would not be found in contempt for the months he did not pay the full $1000.

How Much Does it Cost to Pursue a Collections Case?

The answer depends on the complexity of the matter.  As discussed above, family law firms like our firm can work on a “contingency fee” basis for collection cases so there is no up-front attorney fees required.  If a contingency fee is not used, family law attorneys will usually charge by the hour for their time, and these hourly fees could add up substantially.  The complexity of a case is usually determined by the following factors:

  • The amount of money owed
  • The financial situation of the person owing money including employment and assets
  • The location of the person owing money
  • The counsel retained by the person owing money
  • The length of time it has been since the judgment was entered
  • The court location of the original order or judgment

These are just some relevant factors that will determine the cost to pursue collecting on a past due support order or other obligation.  Often, we spend significant amounts of money before a motion is filed to (a) locate the person that owes money; (b) determine the assets of that person; and (c) hiring investigators to plan for service.  Many times these expenses are too significant for a family law litigant to pay alone.

My Ex is Going to Inherit Money – Can I Attach Those Funds?

Very likely, yes.  There is an extremely complex process to obtain an injunction on the estate executor or trustee to prohibit them from providing an inheritance, devise or bequest to a beneficiary that owes money under a court order.  However, it can be done and we have done it.

How Long Does a Collections Case Take?

It depends on the complexity of the case, as described above.  We have had cases resolved in a few short weeks and other cases have to go to trial, which can take years.

Can I Handle My Collections Case on My Own?

Yes.  However, we would provide you with a word of caution before you pursue such a matter alone.  These cases can be extremely complex and if not done correctly, could end up backfiring from the intended result.  Proper planning should be done before a motion is ever filed.  However, there is nothing prohibiting a party from representing themselves in any family law matter, including post-judgment enforcement proceedings.

Has Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, LLP Successfully Handled Collection Cases in Orange County Courts?

Yes.

What do I do if I am Owed Money Under a Family Law Divorce Judgment or Other Order?

Call us.  We are here to help and provide you with options.  The very first thing we will need is the actual court order or judgment.  We will review that during our initial consultation to determine if we can help.  You can email our partner attorney, David, with any questions you may have directly to david@wf-lawyers.com.  Both David and Brian handle our firm’s Orange County collection cases.  Additionally, you should create a detailed spreadsheet of what amounts were owed and what amounts were paid (and when exactly those payments were made.) Call or email us at your convenience to discuss further whether you might have a case worth pursuing.  We are here to help.