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Failure to Pay Child Support

UPDATED: February 27, 2013

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Failure to pay child support is a serious problem and federal, state and local governments actively pursue noncustodial parents who are delinquent in their child support payments. Noncustodial parents who are obligated to pay child support should be aware of the actions that can be taken against them if they fail to make timely payments.

Although most noncustodial parents in regular contact with their children diligently keep up with their child support payments, many noncustodial parents, particularly those who are not involved in their childrens’ lives, do not make regular payments. Some noncustodial parents actively try to avoid paying any child support at all. To remedy this problem, the federal government set up the Federal Child Support Enforcement Program to ensure children have the financial support of both parents and reduce the number of families that require public assistance for support. The program operates in all states through the state and county social services agencies that oversee the collection and distribution of payments.

To make sure child support is timely paid, Congress enacted the immediate income withholding provision that must be included in all child support orders. This is also known as a wage assignment or income deduction order. In addition to wages, states must apply the withholding provision to other sources of income, including disability, pension, retirement, and unemployment benefits, and workers’ compensation payments. There is an exception to the withholding provision that may be permitted for parents who agree to a different arrangement. The noncustodial parent may also avoid the automatic withholding provision if he or she can prove to the court that there is a good reason why the provision should not be enforced.

A positive feature of the withholding provision is that it provides the noncustodial parent with a record of payments so that there can be no dispute over missing payments. It is important for the noncustodial parent to check the child support statement against the record of payments to make sure the payments are properly credited. There are instances where the child support enforcement agency mistakenly notifies credit-reporting agencies that an individual is delinquent in their child support payments.  Fortunately, the record of payments serves as proof that the child support payments were timely paid so the individual’s credit report can be corrected expeditiously.

If the noncustodial parent is self-employed, paid in cash, or frequently changes jobs, the withholding provision is unavailable, therefore, the court will usually order the noncustodial parent to make payments directly to the child support enforcement agency. If payments are not made, however, the child support enforcement agency will pursue alternate ways to enforce compliance with the order.

Some of the techniques that may be used to collect support include intercepting state and Federal income tax refunds, denying passport privileges, suspending driver’s licenses, freezing bank accounts, placing liens on real or personal property, and the seizure and sale of property. It is important to note that the child support enforcement agency can resort to these types of action without court intervention. If these actions are not successful, the child support enforcement agency can take the noncustodial parent to court and pursue additional enforcement measures including contempt of court proceedings, and criminal prosecution and incarceration for failure to pay.

Therefore, a noncustodial parent who is unable to meet his or her child support obligations should never ignore the problem. It is preferable to take a proactive approach to avoid the serious consequences of nonpayment. If there is loss of employment, a reduction in income, serious illness, or another justifiable reason for failing to meet the child support obligation, the noncustodial parent should immediately petition the court for a reduction in the child support amount. If there are arrears, the court may cancel the arrears or permit the noncustodial parent to catch up by making small payments towards the arrears over an extended period of time.

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