Child support spelled out in blocks concept

What Are the Consequences of Not Paying Child Support?

It can be difficult to meet all your financial obligations each month. However, the consequences of not paying child support can be much greater than the repercussions that might come with failing to pay your other bills. Not only can disregarding a court order for child support result in civil sanctions, but criminal penalties can also be imposed.

What is Child Support?

Both parents have a legal obligation to financially support their child — regardless of whether the parents are divorced, separated, or were never married. Importantly, child support is payment made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to ensure the basic needs of a child are met.

Child support payments are meant to cover the following:

  • Food, clothing, housing, and other necessities of the children
  • Healthcare and other medical expenses
  • Educational expenses and daycare costs
  • Extracurricular activities and clubs
  • Other reasonable expenses

Although certain add-on expenses might fall outside the category of basic needs, child support is established to cover a standard of living that a child would enjoy if both parents were still living together. In determining the amount of child support to be paid by a non-custodial parent, the court will consider a number of factors in accordance with California’s guidelines, including the number of children, the income of both parents, and the ability to pay.

There are certain instances in which a judge might order a child support amount that is lower or higher than the payments generated under the guidelines. For instance, if the parent ordered to pay support has an extraordinarily high income or the child has special medical needs, a judge may order that a greater amount be paid.

What Are the Legal Consequences of Not Paying Child Support?

When child support has been ordered by the court, failure to pay the designated amount can have significant legal and economic consequences. If a parent is able to pay support and willfully refuses to obey a court order, they can be found in contempt of court and be subject to monetary fines, jail time, or both.

In the event a non-custodial parent is significantly behind on payments, state prosecutors may step in and a criminal warrant can be issued. Two years or more of child support arrears, or an amount in excess of $10,000, is considered a felony in California. This can result in a maximum two-year prison sentence, community services, and other penalties.

Payment for the owed support may be intercepted from your retirement accounts, tax refund, and paycheck. Other ramifications for failure to pay support can include suspension of your driver’s license, passport revocation, and denial of a hunting or boating license. Critically, a  lien can also be placed on real and personal property, including your home or bank account — and result in a negative impact on your credit score.

Some parents may have informal agreements between themselves regarding child support. But it’s crucial to understand that these verbal agreements are not enforceable in court — unless an order has been signed and issued by a judge, the custodial parent cannot file a petition for nonpayment. This is why it is vital to establish child support with a court order, whether you reach an agreement outside of court with the other parent or a judge decides the outcome.

Child Support Modifications

Since the consequences of not paying child support are serious, it’s imperative to act early if you think you cannot meet your obligations. An experienced family law attorney may be able to help you to secure a modification and save you a considerable amount of money in the long term.

You may be able to avoid the consequences of not paying child support by seeking a payment plan if you have already fallen behind on payments. If you are amicable with the other parent of your children, you may be able to come to a reasonable agreement outside of court. Otherwise, you can reach out to the child support enforcement agency to discuss your options.

Should you be unable to meet your child support obligations, you might be able to seek a modification to avoid the severe legal consequence of not paying. However, courts in California will only grant a modification in limited situations. In order to request that the court lower the amount of child support you have been ordered to pay, you must prove that your income has decreased substantially. You may also be eligible to receive a modification if you are experiencing a medical hardship that affects your ability to pay, or if the child’s needs have changed.

Contact a Knowledgeable Fresno Child Support Attorney

When faced with a child support matter, it’s essential to have a skilled child support lawyer by your side. With more than 20 years of experience, the Law Offices of Rick D. Banks represents clients for a broad scope of child support matters throughout Fresno and the surrounding area. Whether you owe support or you are attempting to obtain it from a noncustodial parent, we strive to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved in your case. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.

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