Child support is an amount of money that is ordered by a court, usually in separation or divorce cases, that a non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent, or parent who has the child on a day-to-day basis. The amount is typically paid monthly.

The amount of child support that is ordered by the court, whether it is by agreement or not, is binding and required by law. This money is intended to be used by the custodial parent for the benefit of the child, not for the benefit of the parent.

Child support typically helps pay for the child or children’s basic necessities, such as: 

  • Food;
  • Housing;
  • Clothing;
  • Health insurance;
  • Medical care; and
  • Educational expenses.

In addition, child support is intended to be a provision for the basic necessities, not for luxury items or items that are not required for the child’s upbringing. All determinations made by a court related to a child are done using the child’s best interest standard

The court will issue a child support order. This order will contain the amount the non-custodial parent is required to pay as well as the start date for those payments. If the non-custodial parent fails to make payments, the court can order their employer to take the payments from their paychecks. Additionally, unpaid child support can be deducted from other income, such as tax returns.

Although courts order child support payments and they are required, in some cases there may be a delay in child support payments. Sometimes, the non-custodial parent cannot be located or they choose to quit their job instead of pay. Finding the individual and either having them brought before a court or served with a wage garnishment often requires time, which may cause payment delays.

What Sets the Deadline for Child Support Payments?

As noted above, a court may order child support payments to be paid by a non-custodial parent. The  payment is considered late when the payment date, for example, the 1st, 15th, or end of a month, stated in the order is passed and the individual does not make a payment.

In some cases, a child support order may provide a short grace period, or an additional period of time for the individual to make a payment. If the grace period passes and the individual still has not made a payment, the court or a child support agency may issue a statement called a Notice of Child Support Delinquency. This statement provides directions for how to make up the late payment and warns the non-paying individual of the legal consequences for failure to pay child support.

If the custodial parent is not receiving payments as required, they can report late child support payments. In some cases, their state may have a child support enforcement agency that handles their case. Otherwise, they can report the issue to an attorney or to the court handling their case.  

If the state has a child support enforcement agency, that agency can act on behalf and without the custodial parent to help them obtain payments. In many cases, agencies can take measures to obtain the back child support owed, including:

  • An Unemployment Insurance Benefits (UIB) Intercept;
  • Taking of state and federal income tax; 
  • Reporting the missed payments to the credit bureaus;
  • Having the individual’s driver’s license suspended;
  • In some states, having professional licenses suspended; and
  • Taking any lottery winnings.

It is important to note that child support is considered a debt and the individual who owes it is considered a debtor. If the individual does not pay, they are considered delinquent and their information may be provided to the credit reporting bureaus, which may lower their credit score. Lowering their credit score may prevent them from obtaining loans or other types of credit until their child support debt is paid.

What do I do When Child Support Payments are not Made When the Grace Period is Over?

After the grace period passes, a notice of delinquency will be provided. These notices state that if a payment is not received by a specific date, the state will begin attempts to collect the past due child support. In other words, the state will attempt to enforce the individual’s child support obligation that is past due.

If an individual fails to make timely payments, they may also have to pay penalty fees for late child support payments. Interest and other fees may also accrue.

The individual may contest the notice of delinquency but they must have a valid reason for doing so. A valid reason may include job loss or other negative chances in their financial circumstances. If the judge finds the individual’s reasons are valid, then the judge will permit the individual to make catch up payments.

If the individual’s contest of the notice is not successful, or if the individual does not challenge the notice but still refuses to make a payment, a state child support enforcement agency may attempt to enforce the past due child support, or child support arrears. There are several ways in which this may be accomplished, in addition to those mentioned above, including:

  • Withholding a portion of the delinquent individual’s wages. The portion that is withheld is used to pay the child support that past due;
  • Placing a lien on the non-paying individual’s property; 
  • Seizing the property of the individual who has not paid the child support;
  • Taking a portion of the non-paying individual’s tax refund;
  • Suspending one or more of the non-paying individual’s licenses, including professional and drivers’ licenses; and 
  • Denying the individual the right to obtain or renew a United States passport.

If the individual refuses to pay, the court may order that individual to be in contempt of court. A contempt of court order means that the individual has violated the terms of their child support order. If the judge holds the non-paying individual in contempt, they can be ordered to serve time in jail or face fines.

Does the Federal Government Play a Role in Enforcing Child Support Obligations?

In some cases, the federal government may intervene against an individual who fails to pay, refuses to pay, or has missed child support payments. The federal government passed a law in 1998 called the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act (DPPA). This act makes it a felony for an individual who owes child support to cross state lines in order to evade making child support payments. The Act also imposes criminal penalties on parents who are delinquent in their child support payments.

Pursuant to the DPPA, an individual is guilty of a felony if:

  • The individual travels to another state with the intent to avoid paying their child support; and
  • Their obligation either exceeds $5,000; or
  • Has been past due for over one year.

Pursuant to the DPPA, an individual may also be guilty of a felony if:

  • They deliberately fail to pay their child support for a child;
  • The child resides in a different state; and
  • The individual either owes over $10,000 or has not paid for more than 2 years.

In addition, the DPPA provides that an individual who has failed to pay child support will be placed on probation. If the individual violates the terms of that probation, they will be sentenced to jail time.

In order to comply with the terms of probation, the individual must:

  • Pay child support;
  • Make an effort to find employment so they can continue to pay support; and
  • Appear at all required court hearings, including child support hearings. 

Do I Need the Help of a Child Support Lawyer?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced child support lawyer for any child support issues you may face. If you are owed child support, your lawyer can assist you in obtaining payments.

If you owe child support but have missed payments, a lawyer can assist you in many ways. It may be possible to modify the child support order and lower payments if your financial circumstances have changed. It is best to address any payment issues as soon as possible before they become much bigger issues, such as jail time and lower credit ratings.