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Child Support Law

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I Can't Afford To Make Child Support Payments

If you are laid off, unemployed, or your business is not making money, you may not have enough income to pay child support. Luckily, a substantial change in income provides a reason to request a modification of child support payments.

It is important to get your child support orders changed if you cannot make payments. Failure to pay support can result in interest penalties, contempt of court, and the possibility of jail time.

Each state has its own child support laws and procedures for modifying support obligations. To get the best legal advice for your situation, it is best to consult a top child support attorney in your state.

What Can I Do If I Can't Afford My Child Support?

Non-custodial parents must make monthly payments to the state child support services agency to provide financial support for their children. There are penalties associated with failure to make payments, late payments, or partial child support payment. If you cannot afford to pay current child support amounts, you need to take immediate action to reduce your future child support obligations.

A sudden change in your financial situation can leave you unable to afford monthly child support. Many people live paycheck-to-paycheck and a financial emergency or loss of any source of income can be devastating. A substantial change in circumstances can be caused by:

  • Loss of investment income
  • Getting fired or laid-off
  • Decrease in hours or demotion
  • Mounting credit card debt
  • Natural disaster
  • Medical emergency

If My Income Changes, Does That Change My Child Support Obligation?

The initial court-ordered child support award is based, in part, on the income of each parent. Other factors in calculating child support include providing for the basic needs of the child, including:

  • Health insurance coverage
  • Educational needs
  • Travel expenses
  • Child care expenses
  • Special needs

In general, the child support orders will remain in place until either parent makes a formal modification request. If you suddenly experience a loss of income, the child support obligations will not change until you take action to modify the child support order. Modified child support orders will generally be based on the same child support guidelines, updated to reflect the current income of each parent and the needs of the child and any additional children.

Will I Have to Pay Back Support After a Child Support Modification?

Child support changes are not retroactive. This means that it will only change your future child support obligation and not the past payments. Even once you successfully petition to modify your payments, you will still have to pay any arrears, subject to additional fines and penalties.

Can the Custodial Parent Increase My Payment Obligations?

Either parent has the right to request a review and modification of the child support order at any time. For example, in Tennessee, a “significant variance" is required for modification of an existing order. Current monthly and annual income information for both parents will be reviewed. A parent may also request a change for the increased cost of caring for the child including higher medical expenses, educational support, and health care costs.

Can I Have Child Support Arrears Forgiven?

Generally, you cannot have child support arrears forgiven. You are still liable for any past missing support payments, even after modifying your child support orders. In addition, you may also have to pay interest on unpaid child support. However, there may be some options to reduce your financial obligations for child support arrears, including:

  • Reaching a settlement agreement with the custodial parent for a lump-sum payment
  • Negotiating with the court to reduce some of the unpaid interest
  • Petition for a reduction based on a change in the parenting plan
  • Set up a payment plan to manage repayment of arrears

There are limited options to have child support debt reduced or forgiven. An experienced family law attorney may be able to offer additional options to manage child support liabilities and reduce future payments so you don't fall further behind.

Do I Have to Pay Child Support If I'm Unemployed?

You may still have to pay some child support, even if you are unemployed. As soon as you become aware that you may lose your job, contact the state child support agency or your family law attorney for assistance. If you will have a tough time coming up with child support, you can request a temporary reduction of your payments.

If you are not working, you may be able to apply for unemployment benefits. Child support payments can be deducted from your unemployment benefits to avoid further interest and penalties. If you are on Social Security benefits or disability, your child support payment can also be deducted from your monthly benefits.

During the child support modification hearing, the judge may try and determine whether the noncustodial parent is voluntarily unemployed or trying to hide their sources of income. In Texas, if the court finds the actual income is significantly less than the parent could earn because of intentional underemployment, the court may apply the support guidelines to the earning potential instead of the actual monthly income.

Can You Go To Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

The state can send a parent to jail for not paying child support, but it is not common. The state has an interest in making sure you pay some amount of money towards raising your child. When you are incarcerated, it is difficult to contribute any money towards your child support obligations. However, there are many other consequences of not paying child support.

Depending on the state, failure to pay child support may lead to:

  • Suspension of your driver's license
  • Loss of public assistance benefits
  • Passport restrictions
  • Loss of public housing

If you continue to fail to pay child support, the court could find you in contempt. The court may also charge you with misdemeanor charges for failure to pay child support, which could result in a criminal record.

Failure to pay support can also begin compounding the amount owed through interest on the arrears. If the debt is not paid down, the amount you owe will continue to increase. Another child support enforcement action may include property liens or access to your money in financial institutions. The county child support office may be able to take money out of your bank account and put a lien on your car, house, or real estate.

After an income withholding notice, the office of child support enforcement can collect benefits through wage withholding. If you have filed your tax returns, the child support enforcement agency can seize your tax refund to apply it to the outstanding child support debt.