How do I ask the court to enforce a child support order (contempt actions)?

Also in
Show Endnotes
By
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed
Reviewed
Text

If the other parent disobeys the child support order, you can take them back to court. You file a Complaint for Contempt.

In a contempt case, you ask the court to decide that the other parent is in “contempt.” “Contempt” means not obeying the child support order even though you are able to.

If the court decides a parent is in contempt because they did not pay child support, the judge can force that parent to pay the money, get a job, or go to jail. This decision is a “Judgment of Contempt.”

This "how to" explains the steps you must take to enforce a child support order in court.

Widgets
What court papers should I file?
Can anyone help me file the court papers?

A lawyer

A lawyer can prepare and file your court papers.  A lawyer can also represent you in court.  You might choose to get a lawyer if you think the lawyer will do a better job than you in court. See Find A Lawyer.

DOR

You can ask the Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement (DOR/CSE) to file a Complaint for Contempt for you. Call DOR at 1-800-332-2733 or apply for DOR Child Support Enforcement services online.

The DOR will give you forms and instructions. Fill out the forms and send them back to the DOR. DOR can also take steps to enforce the order outside of court.

Remember that the DOR:

  • Can take a long time to process your paperwork,
  • Is not your lawyer. The DOR may not handle your case the way you would like.

File the papers on your own

You can file the papers and go to court on your own.  You can ask the Court Service Center or a Lawyer for the Day at a Probate Court for help filling out the papers.  You can download the forms from the Probate Court website or get them from a court. Look at the instructions below to learn more about what is involved in filling a complaint for contempt.

Do I have to pay to file and serve the forms?

There is no filing fee for the complaint of contempt.

But serving the complaint and summons on the other parent costs $35.00-$45.00. [check this]The deputy sheriff or constable charges this fee.

If your income is low, you can ask the state to pay the fees. You fill out a form called an Affidavit of Indigency. You include information about your income. What you write down must be true.  Take the form to the court clerk. Ask the clerk to approve the Affidavit.  If the Affidavit is approved, make sure you give a copy to the person who serves the papers on the other parent.  Keep a copy of the Affidavit for your records.

How to ask the Probate and Family Court to enforce a child support order

You will file the complaint for contempt in the same court that made the child support order.

Find addresses and contact information for Probate Courts in Massachusetts on the court's website.

Get the contempt summons.

A court clerk gives you a Contempt Summons. If you file your complaint by mail, the court will mail you the summons. A Contempt Summons is a court order that tells the defendant:

  • to come to court,
  • when to come to court,
  • The address of the court,
  • To bring a current Financial Statement,
  • To explain why they should not be held in contempt, and
  • If the court decides the defendant is in contempt, the court may send them to jail. See a sample contempt summons
Serve the papers.

Go to a deputy sheriff or constable and give them:

  • the original summons,
  • your court-approved Affidavit of Indigency, if you have one. The Affidavit of Indigency is for the sheriff. It tells the sheriff the state will pay for service,
  • a copy of the complaint,
  • the Request for a Financial Statement, and
  • the blank pink financial statement form the court gave or mailed you when you filed the complaint.

Important

Make sure to keep copies of all papers that you give to the sheriff or constable.

The deputy sheriff or constable will deliver the papers to the other parent. When the deputy sheriff gives the papers to the other parent, it is "service of process."

After the sheriff or constable serves the papers, they fill out, sign, and date the section called "Proof of Service". Wait for the sheriff or constable to return the original summons to you. This is proof that the other parent got the documents telling them about the case.

Make a return of service.

Make a copy of the signed original Contempt Summons and return the original to the court clerk. This is called making "return of service." Bring the signed summons back to court as soon as you get it from the sheriff or constable.

Fill out a financial statement.

The court may require you to file a Financial Statement. You must tell the truth about all your income and expenses. Bring your Financial Statement to the court hearing.

Go to court on the day scheduled for the hearing.

Bring all your paperwork with you. Bring the originals and 2 copies of everything you think you will give to the court. You will give one set of copies to the defendant, and keep one set for yourself. 

What happens at a child support contempt hearing?

After you file the complaint, the other parent gets a copy of the complaint and a “Contempt Summons”. The Contempt Summons tells the other parent when to go to court.

When you file a Complaint for Contempt case, you are the “plaintiff”. The parent who is not obeying the child support order is the “defendant”.

The other parent must prove that they could not obey the child support order. Before a person can be found in contempt, the court must find that they have the ability to pay.

If the judge decides the defendant is able to obey the child support order, the defendant is “in contempt”. The judge might not make their decision at the hearing. They might wait and make their decision later. Or, they might ask you to come back for another hearing at a later date. 

If the judge does make an order that the defendant is in contempt, the order will say that the defendant must do at least one of the following things:

  • serve a sentence in jail
  • pay the full amount of money due;
  • keep making regular child support payments, plus money to make up the arrears (past due amount
  • look for a job and report back to a probation officer. This is called a "job search" order;
  • take part in a community service program and report back to a probation officer;
  • take part in a job readiness or job training program and report back to a probation officer.

Note

If the court finds the defendant in contempt, the court is supposed to order them to pay your attorney's fees and court-case expenses. These fees and expenses must be reasonable.  If you are using a lawyer, make sure they ask the court for attorney's fees and court-case expenses.

What if the other parent does not show up for the hearing?

The other parent is the defendant. If the defendant does not show up in court on the day of the contempt hearing, the judge can issue a civil arrest warrant called a "capias."

A capias warrant is not the same as a criminal arrest warrant.

With a criminal warrant, a person is arrested because they are a suspect in a crime.

A capias warrant in a contempt case makes the defendant go to court for the hearing. If the defendant does not show up for a hearing, the judge can issue a capias. A deputy sheriff or constable serves the capias by arresting the other parent and bringing them to court for the hearing.

Resource Boxes
More Resources
Get help filling out forms
Child Support: Get help filling out forms

The Court Service Centers can help you fill out court forms related to child support, by Zoom or in person.

Some Probate Courts have Lawyer for the Day programs. Contact the court directly to see if your court has one.

Learn more about finding a lawyer.

Was this page helpful?