If you’re one of the millions of Americans that pay child support, you might be wondering more about what is required of you. Or more specifically, what happens if you fail to meet those obligations.
We’ve got what you need to know regarding your child support payments, and what you might be facing if you refuse or fail to pay them.
Failing to Pay Child Support
Maybe you are refusing to pay child support because you disagree with the amount you’ve been ordered to pay. Perhaps you don’t feel you can afford it. Less than half the custodial parents who are owed child support receive the full amount they’re entitled to, meaning for whatever reason, quite a few non-custodial parents aren’t paying.
Whatever the reason, you might be wondering what happens if you don’t make those court-ordered payments. There are a number of things that might happen, largely depending on your state laws.
Driver’s License Suspension
A first step of the state is generally the suspension of your driver’s license. As part of the renewal process, you’ll be asked if you pay child support. The agencies report to the DMV and inform them when someone is behind on their payments.
If you’re on that list, your license will not be renewed until you bring your payments current.
Denial of Passport
Whether you’re wanting to get away for a vacation, or you need to travel for work, you could find yourself grounded. If you’re trying to get a passport but are delinquent on payments, there’s a good chance your state could refuse to issue you a passport.
Further, even if you have a current passport, it could be revoked.
This is the most common consequence of failing to meet your financial obligations to a custodial parent. The state will inform your employer and get a court-ordered Default Judgment and Wage Garnishment Order. Your employer will then take the money directly out of your paycheck.
The money will be collected by the state and sent to the custodial parent appropriately. It’s also important to note that this can apply to federal and state income tax returns as well. If you thought you had a big refund from Uncle Sam on the way, you could well find it redirected before it hits your bank account.
This is generally reserved as a last-ditch effort. In the event that you are jailed for failure to pay, the sentence will generally only last as long as it takes you to bring yourself current.
However, the issue is that parents can’t work while incarcerated, meaning they aren’t able to make payments anyway. Some states are quicker to order jail time than others, but it isn’t the first resort for any.
Penalties and Fines
This is another fairly common consequence. If you don’t pay your regular ordered monthly payments, you might end up owing even more in penalties or fines. These vary by state, but in many cases can add up to substantially more than the regular payments.
In some cases, this could tack on thousands of extra dollars.
Dismissal From the Military
If you’re serving in the armed forces, you can actually lose your job for failure to pay child support. Child support enforcement can include dismissal from the military.
Further Federal Penalties
In addition to state fines and penalties, you might also be convicted of a federal offense if you owe late child support and move to a different state. In order to be convicted, the burden of proof required includes proving you had the ability to pay but chose not to, that you haven’t paid in over a year, or that you owe more than $5,000.
If convicted, it’s considered a misdemeanor, although the charge can increase to a felony if the amount goes about $10,000. It generally comes with a jail sentence of two years.
A Lien on Your Property
The state can also place a lien on any property you possess, allowing them to garner funds owed when you sell. For instance, if you owe child support and sell your home, you might be surprised to find a chunk of your equity is taken to satisfy your debt.
Loss of Other Privileges
Your driver’s license and passport aren’t the only things you have to worry about losing. Professional licenses of other kinds, as well as hunting, fishing and boating licenses, can also be revoked for failure to pay.
What If I Can’t Pay for Financial Reasons?
The more serious consequences on this list are reserved for parents who are proved to be willfully withholding funds from the custodial parent. In other words, you just don’t feel like ponying up the dough.
But what if you can’t pay because of financial hardship of your own?
Job loss or unexpected bills can cause a change in your budget and your ability to make your child support payments. If this happens, and you can no longer afford your court-ordered payments, there are a few things you can do to avoid the consequences on this list.
- Communicate with the custodial parent and state about your hardship, and keep them informed of the situation. Voluntarily letting them know there may be problems going forward with payments shows you’re being open and transparent.
- Continue to make as much of your payment as you can. Something is better than nothing and is a show of good faith that you’re trying to hold up your end.
- Try to make up the difference in other ways, such as providing food or clothing for your child.
- Seek a formal child support modification of your payment through the court. If your financial picture has changed drastically since the original order, your level of obligation might have changed as well.
Your Child Support Payments
If you can’t pay child support payments for a financial reason, follow the above guidelines to avoid serious consequences. If you’re choosing not to make your payments, your state will decide the course of action and the escalating consequences.
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