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Child Custody | Family

Can You Lose Custody for Not Paying Child Support?

7 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

Yes, a parent may lose custody for not paying court-ordered child support. It won’t happen right away, and all parties will have to go through a legal process. Nevertheless, failure to pay child support can be a civil or criminal offense depending on the state and its laws.

Parents who fail to pay child support or make late payments may be found in contempt of court or have their visitation rights restricted, revoked, or canceled altogether. In extreme cases, a family court judge may suspend physical custody of the child if the delinquent parent is deemed unable to provide the necessary financial and emotional support.

If you struggle to make child support payments, that does not make you an unfit parent. A local family law attorney can help you fix your child support situation.

Child Support Obligations

Child support is a court-approved payment to ensure that children of separated or divorced parents have the financial resources they need to thrive. Courts are especially sensitive to the wellbeing of children after a divorce. In about half of states, for example, divorced parents are obligated to pay for college tuition – even though this right has not been firmly established for children in non-divorced households.

Making child support payments is a high priority for parents. If a custodial parent doesn’t have physical custody, they still will likely need to contribute money to support the care and maintenance of any minor children. Sometimes, a judge may also order a non-custodial parent to pay additional medical expenses or daycare costs.

How To Reduce Your Child Support Payments

There are a few common tactics you can try to reduce a child support amount, including:

  1. Negotiate a new agreement: You and the other parent may be able to develop an alternative arrangement that reduces your monthly payments, which could include adjusting the payment amount or changing the schedule to something more manageable.
  2. Apply for child support modification: If you demonstrate that your financial situation has changed since the original child support agreement, you may be eligible for an adjustment. This could involve lowering your payments or changing the child support payment schedule to something that makes more sense for you.
  3. Take advantage of tax benefits: If you can prove that the other parent owes child support more than your court-ordered payments, you may be able to take advantage of certain tax benefits. Consult a qualified accountant or a child support lawyer to learn more about your options.
  4. Work with a financial professional: A financial professional can help you create and stick to a budget to make timely payments. They can also advise how to reduce or manage your other debt so that you have more disposable income for child support payments.

A fairer deal on child support is possible. Connect with a family law attorney for a free consultation to discuss your options.

Consequences for Child Custody After a Failure To Pay a Child Support Order

Under most circumstances, failure to make a child support payment can be a bad idea. It can harm a parent’s rights and ability to obtain custody.

In some jurisdictions, if the non-custodial parent refuses to pay child support for some time, the custodial parent may be able to file for a modification of the custody arrangement, with the possibility of gaining full or sole custody. Usually, this happens when the non-custodial parent has failed to make court-ordered payments for an extended period.

In addition, the non-custodial parent’s failure to pay support may result in their having limited or no visitation rights. This can be highly detrimental to the parent-child relationship, especially when the non-custodial parent is involved in their child’s life before the child support dispute arises.

If a non-custodial parent fails to pay child support, they may face other implications, such as:

  • Administrative and judicial fines
  • Suspension of their driver’s license
  • Wage garnishment
  • Tax refund forfeiture
  • Lien on their personal property
  • Negative reporting from credit bureaus
  • A jail sentence in certain jurisdictions

The legal system generally takes child support payments more seriously than other monetary obligations. In some cases, a non-paying parent can be found in contempt of court, resulting in a civil warrant. If payments do not come promptly, the judge may impose interest.

A Custodial Parent Filing For Contempt Of Court

If a custodial parent believes the other parent is not honoring the court’s custody order, they may file for contempt. This action aims to enforce the current court orders and allow the custodial parent to have their rights respected.

To initiate a contempt of court action, the filing parent must submit a motion, or written request, to their local court. In some cases, they may also need to include an affidavit or sworn statement that outlines the case details.

In their filing, they must provide evidence showing how the other parent has violated the court order and why they are in contempt. The filing parent may also request that specific remedies be imposed, such as:

  • Paying fines
  • Awarding additional custody
  • Tax refund forfeiture

Upon filing the motion, a judge or court official will review it and determine if the other party is in contempt and what remedies are necessary. The judge may also hold a hearing, allowing both sides to argue and present evidence.

If the judge determines that one parent is in contempt of court, they will issue an order requiring the other parent to correct their behavior and comply with the terms of the custody agreement. Violating a judge’s order comes with more immediate consequences.

Back Child Support

Back child support is court-ordered financial support paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for caring for a child or children.

Back child support payments typically happen monthly; an unpaid support payment can also result in serious legal repercussions.

Could You Face Jail Time For Not Paying Child Support?

Failing to pay child support can be a civil or criminal issue. It depends on the facts of the case and the locality in which the case is being decided.

No matter what type of issue it is, a party can still face jail time for not paying child support. It’s one of many specific actions that a court can try to compel you to comply.

The judge usually weighs several other factors before deciding on jail time. For example, if a person has proven they cannot pay, the judge will typically rule in favor of other enforcement measures.

Do I Still Have To Pay Child Maintenance If My Ex Moves Out Of State?

Even if your ex moves out of state, you must still pay child support. Under federal law, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), the state court that initially issues a child support order retains jurisdiction over that order’s enforcement and modification.

Therefore a parent who moves out of state must still pay child maintenance ordered by the original court. It also means that if your ex moves out of state, the court that issued the original court order can still modify the existing support obligation.

If You Lose Your Job, What Happens With Child Support?

In most cases, parents’ pre-established financial responsibilities determine child support payments. Generally, parents’ obligation to pay support is not affected by the loss of a job or other changes in a financial situation that may occur.

Technically, you don’t need a job to pay child support. If a parent or guardian is able to pay child support without having a job, they will not lose custody just because their money comes from savings.

However, if a job loss is long-term and significantly affects the parent’s ability to pay upkeep, they may ask the court to modify their child support order. Depending on the state’s laws, a parent may apply for a modification of child support due to a change in circumstances, such as less money.

The judge may then consider the new financial information and the time the parent spends with the child and determine whether or not a modification is appropriate.

Child support payments are a difficult issue for every parent or guardian, even in the best of circumstances. From time to time, you may need advice from someone who’s handled this situation thousands of times before.

Meet with an unbundled attorney for a free consultation about child custody payments. Unbundled legal services offer pay-as-you-go representation, which can help you save money while still providing the legal protection you need.

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