Child support is an important part of many divorce cases in California. It is a financial obligation meant to help children retain their standards of living after their parents break up. Most courts assign a child support obligation to the noncustodial parent to help the custodial parent pay for basic needs such as food, shelter, education and childcare. Even if you have a significant amount of debt, you may still have to pay child support under California law.
California Family Code Section 4011
California has specific laws regarding child support, found in Division 9 of the Family Code. It has rules such as the right of one parent to bring legal action against another for willfully failing to fulfill a child support obligation. It includes a rule for the payment of child support by parents in debt. Section 4011 of the law states that a parent with a child support order must lawfully fulfill its terms before paying any debts owed to creditors. Even if you are in debt, therefore, you must pay the money you lawfully owe your ex-spouse in child support.
Only after you have met the requirements under your child support obligation may you use what money you have left to appease creditors. It is not a valid excuse not to pay child support to say you had to pay your credit card bill instead. The argument may work vice versa, however; you may be able to negotiate your monthly debt payments down based on an income statement that includes deductions for child support. Creditors may work with you on repaying your debts based on your income level minus a child support obligation.
Modifying a Child Support Order
If circumstances beyond your control change your financial state and lead to you falling behind financially, you may qualify for the modification of a child support order. The courts will generally grant a modification request if you lose your job, for example, and can no longer fulfill the required order. Reasons you might need to modify your order include the loss of your job, a change in the other parent’s income, incarceration, child custody changes, changes in the child’s needs or health, or changes to any other factors involved in child support calculations.
It is very important to seek a child support modification in writing through the official court process. Do not make an informal agreement with your ex-spouse about making lower payments until you get back on your feet. An agreement that is off the books could lead to serious legal trouble later. Your unpaid child support – even if you had an unofficial agreement with your ex – could rack up and lead to you being in arrears with the court. The courts may then hold you in contempt until you pay off the unpaid amount, meaning wage garnishment, additional fines or even jail time. Always seek a modification of a child support order in court.
How to Afford Your Child Support Payments
If your debts prove to be too much on top of a child support obligation, help is available. Several state and federal programs exist to help parents in your situation. The Office of Child Support Enforcement trains parents on how to advance in the workplace, for example. You may also be able to hire a Sacramento child support lawyer to help you with a request for child support modification pro bono, or for free. Many legal resource centers offer pro bono assistance for parents who cannot afford to pay legal fees.
Acting quickly is what is most important if you fear you cannot keep up with child support payments on top of debts. You cannot erase retroactive child support, or payments you have already missed. The faster you act, the better it will be for your future financial stability. The courts may grant a temporary modification while you find a new job or sort out your debts so you do not end up in arrears. Keep in mind that filing for bankruptcy typically does not discharge a child support duty. Contact an attorney instead to figure out a financial solution that works for you.