Child support is a series of payments, made by a noncustodial parent, to support the parent’s children. The size of child support payments is determined based on the total income of the noncustodial parent and the amount of custodial time awarded by the court. Child support payments seek to help cover basic living expenses and provide for a wide range of the children’s needs. Expenses covered by child support covers differs from state to state but some examples of items that may be covered include:

  • Basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and housing
  • Medical care and health expenses (including health insurance)
  • Expenses related to education
  • Work-related daycare
  • Extracurricular and personal growth activities (usually only if the noncustodial parent’s resources allow)

What Are the Legal Consequences of Not Paying Child Support?

Failure to make child support payments in accordance with the amounts and dates specified in the child support court order can lead to severe consequences. Generally, the longer a child support obligation goes unmet, the more extreme the consequences. If you don’t meet your child support obligations, the court and/or the local child support agency have several options to compel payment, including:

  • Child Support Liens: The court my place a lien on the property of the parent owing child support. A child support lien is a hold placed on property (such as land and cars) and can be assigned without a court hearing.
  • Criminal Warrants: Issued if prosecutors become involved under federal or state laws. This can occur if the parent is severely behind and owes a lot of unpaid support. Criminal warrants are enforceable in any state, not just in the state where it was issued. A criminal arrest can lead to fines, a sentence of one year or greater than one year in jail, or both.
  • Civil ("Capias") Warrants: These warrants are issued when the custodial parent files for contempt of court. Failure to obey a court order is considered contempt of court, which can lead to fines, a short period of time in jail (less than one year), or both.
  • License Suspension: The local state child support agency can request the suspension or denial of professional, occupational, driver’s, and recreational (hunting and fishing) licenses.
  • Intercept Payments: The local child support agency can intercept payments from retirement funds, insurance claims, court judgements, employers (wage garnishment).
  • Seize Bank Accounts: The local child support agency can seize bank accounts including checking, savings, IRAs, and mutual funds.
  • Credit Score: Since unpaid child support is essentially an unpaid debt, if it is reported to a credit agency it can reflect negatively on your credit score.

What Can I Do If I Am Having Difficulty Making Child Support Payments?

If you are having difficulties meeting child support obligations, the following options may be available:

  1. Contact your child support enforcement agency and inquire about a temporary payment plan. This may help with payments in arrears and late payments.
  2. Schedule a court date and make a request to modify child support payments. A modification of child support payments may be granted if you can show a change in circumstances, such as:
    • Change of employment resulting in decreased income
    • Changes to child custody or visitation orders
    • Economic or medical hardships
    • Medical emergency involving the child
    • Changes in the child’s needs (i.e., daycare needs, school expenses)
    • Speak with a lawyer. Your state may have different requirements or options available that can assist you in making child support payments

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Missed Child Support Payments?

It is common for parents to experience financial hardship that affects their ability to render payments. Of course, it is best if you can avoid late or missed child support payments altogether. Failing to make child support payments can have many undesirable consequences. If you are having trouble meeting your child support obligations, contact a skilled family lawyer today.