Dealing with Child Support Enforcement issues?

We get calls every day from divorced people in Tacoma and throughout Washington who are frustrated to find themselves either fighting to get the other party to obey court child support orders or struggling to comply with child support orders that are too rigid. Child Support Enforcement in Tacoma, WA is a maddening situation no matter what side you are on, but, unfortunately, it is not uncommon.

Post-decree enforcement is a term used to refer to the process one party takes to enforce the terms of the divorce after the child support orders have been entered. This can be handled by an attorney often without needing to go to court. Sometimes a demand letter or an agreed order to remedy the situation is enough to get things back on track.

Contempt of court refers to an act or pattern of behavior by the offending party that goes against, or is disrespectful of, a court order, such as failure to pay child support. Contempt must be addressed by the court, as only the court can order a remedy. In family law cases, this typically comes up when one parent continuously fails to pay child support or spousal maintenance, or intentionally does not follow the parenting plan.


If child support payment is the only post-decree issue you have, the Division of Child Support (DCS) through the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) may have resources to help you. They offer garnishment assistance to the collecting parent and resources to help generate or free up funds to the paying parent.

Unfortunately, DCS and DSHS do not handle spousal support payments. An attorney can help you enforce your spousal support order and recover past due payments. You can learn more about DCS and DSHS programs for both parents on the FAQ page of their website.


Parenting plan disputes are a common cause of post-decree tension. If communication was an issue in the marriage, it will most likely continue to be a problem after the divorce. It is appropriate to seek a contempt order if your ex consistently fails to follow the parenting plan. Examples of violations are:

  • Consistently failing to notify the other parent of changes that affect visitation
  • Consistently failing to pick-up or drop-off a child at the designated time and place
  • Making parenting decisions without the other parent in areas that require joint decision making
  • Consistently bad-mouthing the other parent to the child or talking about financial matters with the child if your parenting plan specifically forbids these actions
  • The custodial parent does not make reasonable efforts to require a child to abide by the parenting plan

When considering moving forward with a contempt action, it is helpful to remember what parenting plans are intended to do: maintain a safe and healthy environment for the child. The court is most concerned with what is in the best interest of the child. In other words, you may not be successful in seeking contempt if the other parent’s actions are annoying to you but aren’t actually causing any harm to the welfare of the child. To prove contempt, you must be able to demonstrate the following to the court:

  • There is a valid and current court order in place (like a parenting plan)
  • The violating parent is aware of the order
  • The violating parent knowingly and willfully violated the order
  • You notified the other party that you were seeking contempt and they had ample time to respond
  • Contempt is an appropriate remedy


If the court finds one party in contempt the judge has a variety of ways to bring them into compliance. They may order the offending parent to:

  • Go to counseling
  • Complete a parenting class
  • Make an adjustment to their work schedule
  • Appear for future hearings to “check in” on compliance
  • Provide “make-up time” to the other parent
  • Pay a penalty fine
  • Pay the other party’s attorney fees


Life happens, and sometimes circumstances beyond our control make it difficult to comply, like getting laid off and not being able to afford spousal support or child support payments. If you want to comply with current court child support orders but your job or other factors are making it difficult,  it is a good idea to speak with an experienced contempt attorney about your options before your ex takes you to court.


The Law Office of Mark D. Nelson is Tacoma’s premier contempt attorney, and he can help you get child support enforcement throughout Washington.  Call us to learn more about how we can help you navigate a contempt issue in your case.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided above is intended to be a general discussion of common contempt and post-decree enforcement issues, and is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice that applies to your individual fact situation. Always seek legal counsel for advice on your unique case needs.