The Risks of Failing to Make Court-Ordered Child Support Payments

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Child support payments are often one of the more contested aspects of divorce proceedings, and parents can face severe penalties for failing to make court-ordered payments as scheduled.

Consequences May Include Wage Garnishment, Incarceration

Some of the most common penalties for nonpayment of child support include the following: 


  • Warrant issued for arrest, which may be criminal or civil
  • Finding of contempt of court
  • Fines, jail, or both
  • Garnishment of wages, including unemployment and worker’s compensation
  • Denial of tax refunds
  • Exclusion from receipt of certain government benefits
  • Revocation of passport
  • Suspension, revocation or denial of various licenses—professional, driver’s, hunting/fishing/boating
  • Having a lien placed on property to cover payment

Laws Vary by State, Military Standing

It is important to note that state laws and enforcement of penalties vary regarding child support, but one constant is that every state is prepared to enforce court ordered child support, whether from that state or another state. Moreover, under the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, parents who move across state lines in order to avoid child support payments can be brought up on federal charges as well; penalties for conviction can include not only mandatory restitution of unpaid support obligation, but also imprisonment for up to two years in some instances.

Note as well that penalties for nonpayment of child support by members of the military may differ and can even include dismissal from service, depending on circumstances.

Financial Setbacks? Be Proactive in Seeking Help

Because of these potentially harsh penalties, those having difficulty making payments are advised to do whatever they can to ensure timely payment. If financial difficulties make full payment seem impossible, contacting the local enforcement agency and letting them know of the difficulties may convince them to help set up a temporary payment plan in order to keep a support-obligated parent from falling behind.

It is also possible to have support orders revised by the court, but the requesting parent might have to show a change in circumstances, such as a decrease in income or other economic hardship, a change in the custodial schedule, medical emergencies or other issues involving the parent or child, or changes in the child's needs.

Payment Delinquencies Should Not Affect Visitation Rights

For the parent receiving child support payments, it’s important to keep in mind that visitation rights are entirely separate from child support obligations. A parent who fails to make child support payments may still exercise any visitation rights granted by the court, and the custodial parent must not restrict access. In fact, preventing a nonpaying parent from exercising his or her visitation rights can cause a court to look unfavorably upon the custodial parent.

Regardless of whether a parent is the payor or the recipient of child support, both parents should keep in mind that the right to receive support rests with the child and neither parent should attempt to use support or related issues to either influence, control or punish the other parent.

For more information regarding specific situations, parents should seek the advice of a professional who is well versed in their state's child support laws and enforcement provisions.