Handling Child Support When You Are Behind on Payments

If you have an obligation to pay child support, your inability to pay does not negate your obligation. Even if you lose your job and have very limited financial assets, you still have a legal duty to meet your child support obligations. If you fall behind on payments or stop paying child support, there are many possible repercussions.

Wage Garnishment

An employed individual with a child support obligation should expect to see his or her paychecks slashed dramatically after failing to pay required child support. When it comes to other debts like unpaid medical bills, car payments, or credit card debt, the creditor must secure a judgment before garnishing wages. This is not the case with unpaid child support.

The court does not require a judgment to garnish an insolvent parent’s wages; the custodial parent owed child support must simply obtain authorization from the court and a writ of execution. The sheriff will then present these documents to the insolvent parent’s employer. The parent who owes support could lose as much as 60% of his or her net earnings in wage garnishment to make up for unpaid child support.

Property Seizure

If you owe child support, any checking, savings, or investment accounts are subject to seizure to obtain your owed payments. A child support enforcement agent can secure your financial records to determine whether you have sufficient assets to cover some of your debt or your entire child support obligation and seize those assets. The only possible exception is a retirement account, but once that retirement account becomes an income stream, it becomes subject to seizure for owed child support.

It is also possible to face a property lien if you own valuable property, such as an expensive vehicle or a piece of real estate. Since child support falls under the purview of the government, the court can place an administrative lien on the property much faster and at minimal cost compared to other types of liens.

Fund Interception

If you expect a tax refund this year but owe child support, the IRS may mail your check directly to the custodial parent to whom you owe support. This same rule applies to lottery winnings, casino winnings, and cash prizes from sweepstakes and contests. Once you attempt to collect your winnings, the paying party will run your information through a database and divert your winnings appropriately if you owe back child support.

Remedies for Inability to Pay

A parent who owes child support but has limited assets and no employment may wonder how he or she could possibly pay child support. Limited remedies are available, and it is crucial to work with an attorney as well as the other parent and his or her attorney. Show up to all required court dates, even if you think you cannot plead your case, because failure to show up for a required appearance will likely lead to a default judgment against you requiring you to pay the full amount.

It may be possible to secure a deferment on your child support payments until you find a job, but bear in mind that your deferred payments will accrue interest until you start paying. The intention behind this interest is to encourage you to start paying what you owe as soon as possible.

A family law attorney can help you argue for lower payments if your income is low, or help you petition for a deferment or alternative payment plan that you can afford. Ultimately, it is crucial to realize that it is never advisable to skip child support payments. If you are completely unable to pay, notify the custodial parent as soon as possible and consult with your attorney about potential remedies.