Show Causes for child support arrears: When to file?

Posted on February 26, 2011 in Child Support, Divorce, Family Law

Unfortunately, there are people who refuse to pay child support even though it has been ordered by a court and even though their child or children are in need of support.This is a reality that every family law attorney addresses at some point or another (and many of us find it necessary to address this issue more often than we would like).

Often, clients want to know how long they should wait to file a Motion to Show Cause with their local Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, as if there is a specified number or total amount of payments that must be missed before the Court will consider their Motion. The truth is that there is not such a “magic” number. An individual could technically file a Motion to Show Cause if only one child support payment was even a day late. However, there are at least two pointers a person receiving (or, I should say, not receiving) child support ought to consider before he or she files a Motion to Show Cause with his or her local Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court:

(1) From a practical perspective, it makes little sense to file a Motion for Show Cause if it will cost you more to do so than you ever stand to collect from the obligor (i.e., the person who is supposed to be paying child support). – At the very least, the obligee (i.e., the person who is supposed to be receiving child support) should consider waiting until enough payments are overdue that he or she stands a chance of collecting more in back child support than it will cost to hire an attorney to collect it.

(2) If you can wait until the obligor owes at least three months of support, you should. – Pursuant to Section 16.1-278.18 of the Code of Virginia, a money judgment for past due child support “shall include reasonable attorneys’ fees in cases where the total arrearage for support and maintenance, excluding interest, is equal to or greater than three months of support and maintenance.” If less than three months of support is owed, the Court has discretion to award reasonable attorneys’ fees, but often it does not.