With many divorced families in the U.S., the topic of child support is a common one and also a contentious one. There are so many things that can impact your life if you are ordered to pay child support, and these events can make it difficult to keep up with your payments.
Then, you may worry about legal or financial repercussions as a result of not paying.
One example might be if you’re injured and are out of work. For example, a car accident can turn your life upside down and put you out of work for the short or even long-term.
Then, what do you do?
The specifics vary by state, but it’s important that if you can’t pay child support, you proactively go through the correct legal channels.
Know the Penalties
If you think you’re just going to avoid paying child support, you need to think very seriously about the potential penalties. Failure to obey a court order, including a child support order, is contempt of court.
The person you share children with may get a hearing with a judge to request that you’re held in contempt of court.
You then attend the hearing and tell the judge why you haven’t paid.
If you don’t go to the hearing, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest and that’s how some parents end up in county jail if they don’t pay child support. Of course, if you attend, you may still go to jail, depending on your reasons as to why you haven’t paid.
If you do have a hearing for contempt of court, you have to be able to show you didn’t intentionally not pay child support, meaning you need to show up with evidence.
Evidence might include a statement from your employer explaining why you were fired or laid off, and perhaps some details of jobs you applied for in the meantime.
You can’t use a custodial dispute as a legitimate reason not to pay child support.
Ask for a Modification
Before you get to the above situation, it’s much better to officially ask for a modification of your payments.
You can fill out some legal documents that will show what’s changed and also provide your income and savings information. Then, the legal system will work out how legitimate your claim is, and perhaps a payment plan that’s more in line with your current situation.
It’s better, in the eyes of the state and the legal system, that you pay some of what you would originally versus nothing at all.
If you can prove why you need a modification, the chances are high that you’ll get it.
Along with unemployment, some of the reasons that a modification may be granted include changes in income, and medical expenses, which goes back to the above situation of being in a car accident.
Communicate with Your Child’s Other Parent
It can be tough to communicate with someone that you have a strained relationship with or perhaps even a hostile relationship, but if you can’t pay your child support it can be an important way to avoid being in a legal situation.
Let your ex know how your situation has changed, and tell him or her that you are working on a modification.
Other Consequences If You Don’t Pay
If you don’t pay, there can be other consequences aside from jail time, and sometimes parents aren’t even aware of how far-reaching these can be.
For example, you may not be able to renew your driver’s license. All states during the renewal process ask if you pay child support, and in most cases, child support agencies report to the DMV if a parent isn’t paying. The state can then check this out in a database, and they won’t allow you to renew if they see you’re behind.
Wage garnishment is another consequence of not paying and not going through the proper legal channels for a modification.
You may have to pay additional fines and penalties, making what you owe even greater, and if you’re behind on child support, you may not be able to get or renew a passport.
You may be dismissed from military service, and then there’s jail time, which is usually the last resort.
If you can’t pay because of financial hardship, it’s so important to communicate with the other parent and then seek a formal modification from the court system rather than just not paying or avoiding the situation and hoping it goes away.