If you and your co-parent have a child together but are no longer together, regardless of whether or not you were married, you probably have an order of child support in place.

The child support is the periodic, scheduled payment of money ordered by a court to be provided to the noncustodial parent for the child. The support is intended to ensure that the child continues to benefit economically as when the parents were together.

The child support will usually be in place until the child reaches the age of majority. The amount of the financial support for the child is based the facts of each case and will be ordered after the court evaluates a number of factors.

These factors may include the amount of the eligible income of the parents, the number of children, any special needs of the children, the visitation time granted to the noncustodial parent, and the age of the children.

At the time of the order, the parties will work out what the child support will cover. Generally, the child support will be used for necessities such as the child’s food, clothing, medical expenses and educational costs. The parties may agree that the child support will be used to pay other needs of the child and will include that in the order.

What Happens If I Fail to Pay Child Support?

When the noncustodial parent fails to pay the child support (back child support) in the amount ordered or according to the schedule agreed upon, the custodial parent may seek to enforce the child order against the noncustodial parent.

The federal child support agency (working with state and local agencies and authorities) may become involved to help locate the parent, determine the amount in default, monitor regular monthly payments and use enforcement methods to obtain the back child support.

The failure to pay has legal ramifications, and the custodial parent also can seek the assistance of the state and the family court to enforce the order. The severity of the legal actions taken against the non-paying parent depends on how much behind in payment they are and the reasons for the failure to pay as ordered. Common enforcement actions include:

  • Income Withholding: The amount that can be withheld is based on the noncustodial parent’s disposable income, which may include unemployment as well as worker’s compensation benefits and federal and/or state income tax refunds.
    • A wage garnishment order can be issued to the employer of the noncustodial parent directing the employer to withhold the amount of the child support. The child support will then be sent to the custodial parent. The employer can be held liable for the amount of the child support order so it is in their best interest to withhold the support as instructed.
  • Liens or Seizures: A lien be placed against the noncustodial parent’s real or personal property until the child support has been paid. As well, their back accounts can also be seized to pay the child support.
  • Suspension of Licenses: The state can suspend the non-custodial parent’s driving, recreational, and professional licenses.
  • Warrants: A civil or a criminal warrant can be issued against the non-paying parent. The parent can be found in contempt of the court order and fined, or if severe enough, a criminal warrant may be issued in their name.
  • Credit Reporting: Child support is considered a high priority debt and as such may be reported to the credit agencies. Each month you fail to pay your financial obligation will be listed on your credit report.
    • A negative credit report can impact your ability to gain certain goods and services, including a mortgage, an apartment, a job, or a car loan.

What Can I Do If I Can’t Make My Child Support Payments?

Keep in mind that back child support is usually not subject to modification or adjustment. Therefore, you should try to anticipate your ability to pay your child support obligation before you start missing payments.

If you are unable to make your payments, it is best to work with your co-parent and the family court to seek a modification of the order. Before the court will make a change to the order, you must establish the necessity for the modification. The reasons should be substantial and commonly include the following examples:

  • Unemployment or reduced income;
  • Disability or medical hardship;
  • Change in visitation;
  • Increased school costs;
  • Increased healthcare costs; and/or
  • The other parent has increased income

Should I Consult a Lawyer About Not Making My Child Support Payments?

If you have been ordered to pay child support, you should continue pay the amount ordered and on the schedule outlined. Failure to make your child support payments can lead to serious consequences.

If you are unable to make your child support payment or desire a modification in payment, consult with a local child support lawyer to find out what your options are.