When one parent is awarded child support in any divorce proceeding, it acts just like any other order delivered by the court, and is enforceable with an order of contempt action. Typically, if the non-custodial parent does not comply with the child support order, the custodial parent will seek an order of contempt, which is defined as a willful failure to obey an order of the court.
Usually, the party that is seeking a contempt order will include the threat of serving a jail sentence for the non-paying, non-custodial parent. In actuality, the real purpose of seeking a contempt order is to guarantee that the non-custodial parent complies with the child support order. Clearly, however, there are very real and serious consequences for not complying. Although jail time is a possibility, this is usually a last recourse of action for a judge.
A contempt order such as this is not primarily intended to punish wrongdoers, and is instead supposed to remedy the situation through civil litigation. Because of this, it is common for the custodial parent to make a demand for discovery, as doing so could very well reveal if the non-custodial parent has the resources required to not only cover their life, but their child support obligation as well. In many cases, following a discovery that reveals the offender cannot make their payments, a court may find that there is an inability to pay, and therefore will not be held in contempt.
If this is the situation, then the court may look to a third party, like parents of the non-custodial party, as a source from which to appropriate necessary funds. Bank accounts, retirement accounts and other assets may also be liquidated by order of the court in order to make payments.
If, at the end of the day, the court finds that the non-custodial parent is not making payments purely because of financial hardships, then the court will provide payment for the missing child support.