Here’s why you should always pay your Child Support
Attorney Jeanne Sockle weighs in on the consequences of not paying Child Support
Not paying one’s child support obligation has never been a good idea. But over the past couple decades state and federal agencies have made a successful cooperative effort to put in place a number of significant consequences that take effect when you are delinquent on your child support payments.
Sure, we all hear stories of people who are tens of thousands of dollars delinquent on their child support payments, with no real consequences. Those situations exist but they are becoming folklore and are less frequent in reality. You should not make the naïve mistake of assuming nothing will happen if you choose not to pay. There is a big price to pay that goes way beyond your payment obligation. Here’s what can happen to you if you don’t pay your child support:
The Obvious Consequences:
Angry Co-Parent: It goes without saying that not paying your child support obligation will damage your relationship with the intended recipient of the payments. Most people who are supposed to receive child support actually need the financial support to provide for the child. If they don’t receive the payment, it often leaves them short of cash to cover their monthly expenses with little recourse. Withholding support payments is also often seen as a way to maintain control over an ex, which is never well received – by the ex or by the courts.
Child without adequate resources and feeling abandoned by parent: Those little munchkins are pretty smart and very perceptive. Unless your child is an infant, there is a good chance they will know that you are not paying to support them. So, not only are they going without necessities because of the lack of financial resources, they can also feel abandoned and unloved – at the very least confused – by the situation.
Court motions demanding payment: The legal response to failure to pay support as ordered by the court is to go back to court saying that you are in “contempt” and asking that the judge demand or “compel” you to pay. You are required to respond to these motions and that usually means hiring an attorney to represent you. The cost of defending your actions may cost more than what you owe in support.
The Unexpected Consequences:
Garnishment of your wages: Another area of child support enforcement that the government is improving is in garnishing wages to recover delinquent support payments. Moving your residence or changing jobs does not slow down this process. They will find you and you will be garnished. To make matters worse, you will also be ticking off your employer because of the extra administrative work that an employer has to do and a garnishment sends your employer a strong message that you are not a responsible person. It’s a lose/lose situation.
Retention of any tax refunds: If you owe back child support, those funds will be withheld from any income tax refund that you are due. So do not make plans for spending your tax refund on other things – you will probably never receive it.
Suspension of driver’s license: If you are delinquent on your child support obligations, Department of Licensing is made aware and is required to initiate a process of suspending your driver’s license. If you do not respond to notifications of the suspension with full payment or formally establishing a payment plan, then your driver’s license will be suspended. Not a good thing.
Suspension of professional licenses: In the same way that your driver’s license can be suspended, so can your professional licenses, such as your Commercial Driver’s License, and all other professions that require state licensure. The problems with that are too numerous to list, but give it some thought.
The Disastrous Consequences:
Unable to obtain a passport: The state is required to report your delinquency to the federal government which, in turn, puts you on a list of people ineligible to obtain a passport. Not only does this limit your recreational travel opportunities, but it may also impact your employment and ability to travel professionally. And, as with most things controlled by the federal government, it takes a long time to get off that list, even after you have paid your arrearage.
Credit Reports: Know that your delinquency will be reported on your credit report, affecting your overall credit rating and ability to obtain credit cards, loans, mortgages, insurance and open bank accounts.
Employability: Bad credit rating, garnishments, lack of driver’s license and suspension of professional licenses all significantly limit your ability to be employed and certainly send a message to your current employer and potential future employers that you lack responsibility. It is a bad news situation that totally spirals down. Digging yourself out of this hole is a big, big burden.
Jail time: No, it doesn’t happen frequently, but it is entirely possible to do jail time for failing to meet your child support obligations.
Some steps to take to avoid these consequences:
Stay current on your child support payments. It seems obvious but still needs to be said. Pay your support, even if you do not agree with the payment schedule; it is not wise to withhold payment as a form of protest. If you are angry at your child’s other parent, do not punish them by refusing to pay child support, it will turn around and bite you. Even bartering, trading, paying bills versus paying support, and other alternatives you might want to offer or agree to, in lieu of paying child support, put you at risk if you are deviating from the court-ordered child support amount and method of payment.
If you have had a substantial change of circumstances, get a modification of your child support order. If you have lost your job, started school, have a serious or long-term illness, have taken on more substantially more time caring for the child, or any other circumstance that significantly changes your income, debt, or proportional share of residential time with the child, take action to modify your child support accordingly. DO NOT just stop paying your child support obligation without getting the court order changed. As long as the order is in place, so is your obligation to pay. If you stop paying, you will be delinquent under the law and you will start suffering the consequences, no matter what your excuse is. Get a lawyer to help you or, if you cannot afford that, find the legal forms and do it yourself.
Communicate to protect yourself. If you have a very short-term situation that makes it difficult or impossible for you to pay your child support on time, talk to the recipient and to your assigned child support enforcement representative. If you have an accident, a short layoff, unexpected expenses, etc. that makes you unable to pay on time, don’t let it turn into a bigger problem. Usually, you will be allowed a little extra time or the option for a payment plan to make up for your shortage, if you address the problem directly. If you just blow it off, it is quickly assumed that you are ignoring your obligation and you are set up to start suffering the consequences of non-payment.
Remind yourself regularly that your child support payments are exactly that: your contribution to supporting your child. Put that fact in a positive light. Don’t allow yourself to justify non-payment by claiming that you will not support your child’s other parent. It is a loser argument that carries no weight. In the end, it damages no one but your child and puts you down the road of unintended consequences. Don’t go there.
Don’t quit your job or purposely take a lesser job to avoid paying child support. The court is on to this kind of gamesmanship and will impute wages based on your previous work experience and income history. You will end up with the same child support obligation (or sometimes higher) without the advantage of the better income to pay it. Beware, playing games can often backfire leaving you with the consequences.
Think outside-of-the-box in order to manage your finances and meet your child support obligations. No one likes to put themselves on a budget or to go without niceties that they have gotten used to; but your child support is a long term obligation that you have to budget and plan for.
Ultimately it is very clear that there are no advantages to simply not paying your child support. Do your best to avoid that situation. If you are in a circumstance where you have already fallen behind, do yourself a favor and see a skilled lawyer to help get yourself back on the right track before the consequences start to take over your life.