As unemployment has increased rapidly due to the pandemic and quarantine, you may find yourself struggling to meet child support obligations. Often contested in a divorce, child support is an issue that is both emotional and financial. Parents should know that courts may enforce harsh penalties if you do not make your scheduled payments.
What are the possible consequences?
- A warrant – civil or criminal – may be issued for your arrest.
- You may be found in contempt of court.
- You may be fined, put in jail, or both.
- If you are still working, your wages may be garnished.
- If unemployed, your unemployment compensation may be garnished.
- Your tax refund may be denied.
- If you own a property, a lien may be placed on it to cover any payment that you owe.
- Revocation or suspension of your driver’s license, passport, professional license or hunting/fishing/boating license.
Because these penalties are very serious, if you are having difficulty making payments, be sure to take proactive steps rather than just miss a scheduled payment. These may include:
- Seek a divorce attorney consultation to discuss your next best steps.
- Requesting the local enforcement agency to set up a temporary payment plan to keep you from falling entirely behind.
- Go to the court to have support orders revised. Be prepared to show your change in circumstances, such as unemployment or reduced employment. Other reasons the court may consider a change in support orders include a change in custodial arrangements or medical emergency.
There are differences in state laws and enforcement of penalties, but please know that all states are prepared to enforce court-ordered child support, even if one parent has moved to another state. In such a case, federal charges may be brought. In a federal case, the non-paying parent will be required to pay the support owed and may be imprisoned for up to two years. If the non-paying parent is in military service, he or she may be discharged from service.
Support vs. Custody
Good child custody lawyers will tell you that while the courts take child support very seriously, the courts view support as an issue separate from custody. One parent may not restrict court-ordered visitation of a parent who has not paid child support as scheduled. If the court has granted visitation rights, the parent has those rights until the court would restrict or change them. Courts look unfavorably upon a custodial parent who prevents the other parent from having court-ordered visits with the child or children, particularly if it is related to non-payment of support.
A point of law is that the child is the one entitled to receive support from the parent. Parents should not use payment of support or other support-related issues as a weapon against the other parent. The court will look unfavorably on any such behavior.
In a pandemic as we are experiencing, top estate planning law firms will tell parents concerned about their child’s future security to thoroughly review provisions for children. If you do not have a Will, it is time to contact a lawyer to draw up a Will.
No matter how worrisome your employment situation may be, it is important to act responsibly and seek the advice of a highly experienced child support attorney who can counsel you on your best course of action.