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 the 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 to avoid child support payments can be brought up on federal charges as well. Penalties for a conviction can include mandatory restitution of unpaid support obligation and imprisonment for up to two years in some instances.
Note 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 to keep a support-obligated parent from falling behind.
It is also possible to have support orders revised by the court. Still, 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, other issues involving the parent or child, or changes in the child's needs.
Payment delinquencies should not affect visitation rights
Visitation rights are entirely separate from child support obligations. A parent who fails to make child support payments may still exercise any court visitation rights, and the custodial parent must not restrict access. In fact, preventing a nonpaying parent from exercising their 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.
Neither parent should attempt to use support or related issues to 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.