Child support is money that is paid to the non custodial parent for the care and maintenance of a child or children. It is important to note that the purpose of child support is to help provide financial support for a child, as well as to meet their various life needs. Thus, child support is not meant for the benefit of the other parent, but rather for the support of the child.
Courts take the withholding of child support by a parent very seriously, and people who do so may be held in contempt of court. Therefore, you may not legally withhold child support, unless your action to withhold child support is supported by a court order. Instead of withholding court ordered child support, a better option would be to seek a modification of the child support order.
Although state laws differ, typically when a couple with children separate, there will likely be a number of court orders that dictate the future care of the child. These may include: a child support order, a child custody order, and a court order regarding visitation rights. When the parents cannot agree on child support, child custody, or visitation rights, one of the parents may file a suit affecting the parent-child relationship.
Although the court orders may be incorporated into one another or issued at the same time, they are legally speaking separate issues. This means, even if you are being denied visitation rights, you must still fulfill your court ordered obligation of paying child support. Conversely, if you are not receiving child support payments, you cannot deny visitation rights.
Once again, if you choose not to fulfill your child support obligations, you will still be financially on the hook for those overdue payments. Additionally, the custodial parent will have a right to seek court action to order you to pay retroactive child support, also known as child support arrears.
As mentioned above, courts take the nonpayment of child support very seriously. Penalties for nonpayment of child support include, but are not limited to the following:
- License Suspension: If you fail to meet your child support payment obligations, the state can suspend your license, such as your driving license;
- Liens: The state’s office of the attorney general (“OAG”) may also file liens against you, including liens on your bank account, property, life insurance, or retirement plans;
- Credit Bureau Reporting: Generally, your state’s OAG office are required to report overdue child support payments to various credit reporting agencies;
- Contempt: The most severe penalty for failing to meet your child support obligations is that you may be held in civil or criminal contempt of court. Common penalties for civil or criminal contempt may include fines, imprisonment, or both.
As explained above, withholding child support is generally not permitted, and often results in the offending parent being held in contempt of court. However, you may be permitted to withhold child support if supported by a court order. Thus, in order to reduce your existing child support payment obligations or withhold child support, you should seek a modification of your child support order.
The court that has jurisdiction over modifying your child support order is the original court where the child support order was rendered. Common reasons for modifying an existing child support order include:
- Loss of job, especially due to disability;
- Decrease in visitation time;
- Non custodial parent has another child that requires support; or
- Other substantial changes in expenses of the child, such as increased health insurance or education costs.
Additionally, you may withhold child support if you no longer have an obligation to pay child support. For example, in most states child support is terminated when the child reaches adulthood.
Additionally, a person’s child support may be terminated for other reasons, such as when the child graduates from highschool, enlists in the military, gets married, or becomes emancipated.
As mentioned above, if you fail to meet your child support obligations you do risk going to prison. However, before there is any risk of your imprisonment, a court will typically schedule a hearing to discover the reason for your missed payments.
At that hearing the court may order you to pay retroactive child support, and you may be held in contempt of court if you continue to withhold support. If you are found to be in contempt of court, then the court may put you in prison.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are being held in contempt of court for failure to meet your child support obligations, it is in your best interest to immediately contact a knowledgeable family law attorney in your area. An experienced family law attorney will be able to assist you in fulfilling your court ordered obligations, as well as help you seek a modification of your child support order.
If you are in a situation where child support is being withheld from you, consulting with an experienced family attorney is recommended. A family law attorney will be able to help you navigate the complex legal system, and help you receive retroactive child support payments.