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Beware: Child Support Arrears Can Impact Your New Marriage

In the United States, a significant number of first marriages end in divorce. Unfortunately, the chances of divorce rise with each subsequent marriage. Exes, child support, and blended families definitely add stress to second marriages, especially if you're asking the question: if I marry someone who owes child support, do I have to pay it?

When parents divorce and end a first marriage, they can be in the dark about child support obligations and what can happen when they fall behind on their child support payments.

It’s typical for the paying parent to assume they’ll simply owe a balance; they may not know the local child support agency, in connection with the Federal government, has numerous collection tools in their toolbox, many of which can add undue stress when a parent remarries.


How can your child support obligation affect your new spouse?

If a court has ordered you to pay child support and you skip payments, the other parent may request enforcement measures be taken against you to collect the money you owe. Generally, these measures are meant to deter future nonpayment and can cause a lot of stress, especially when you’re remarried.

Let’s take a closer look at how child support arrears can impact your new marriage:

  • If you owe $2,500 or more in child support, you will be denied a U.S. passport. So, if your spouse was planning on traveling abroad with you, that trip will be put on hold.

  • If you skip too many payments, your driver’s license may be suspended. If you can’t drive, how will that affect your spouse? Will they have to drive you to and from work? This can have a much larger impact if you drive for a living and require a specialized driver’s license for employment.

  • After a parent falls too far behind on child support, other licenses, like professional, business, and recreational licenses can be suspended. If your professional license, for example, is suspended, you may not be able to earn a living and this will likely impact your household expenses and your new spouse.

  • If you have a joint bank account with your spouse, the bank account can be levied for child support arrears, even if the funds deposited came from your new spouse’s income.
  • If you own a home with your new spouse, a lien can be placed on the property and it can’t be refinanced or sold until the child support balance is paid.
  • If you expect a tax refund, even on a joint return with your new spouse, the refund can be intercepted to satisfy child support obligations.
  • If you win the lottery, instead of it going to your new family, it can be put toward paying child support.

Request a modification to your child support payments


As you can see, there are many ways that a failure to pay child support can impact your new marriage. If the amount of child support that you're ordered to pay is too high and you’re having trouble keeping up with the payments, it is imperative to speak with an experienced family law attorney to discuss petitioning the court for a downward child support modification.

Why do I need a court-ordered child support modification?

California courts do not have the ability to retroactively modify child support orders absent a new motion filed requesting such modification.

A common scenario occurs when the paying parent is laid off or otherwise unable to meet their child support obligation.  There is an order to pay child support, but they chat with the other parent regarding their circumstances and reach an informal agreement to put child support payments on hold until new employment is found.  Weeks or months can pass without court-ordered child support payments.  When new employment is secured, the paying spouse may be making less money than at their previous employment. 

The parties may negotiate a lower support payment going forward - again, these conversations are all informal. Years can pass with the lower child support payment being made.  At any time during this typical fact pattern, the child support recipient may file a motion to collect past due child support.

He or she will be entitled to collect the full amount under the court order plus interest regardless of the employment status of the paying parent at any time.  It is the burden of the paying parent to file a request to modify child support to protect their interests.

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Common justifications for modifying a child support order

A motion to modify child support can be filed at any time following the implementation of the original order.  A request to modify child support will be successful if either parent can show a change of circumstances has occurred.

The basis for a change of circumstance claim can include a change to either party’s income, a change to the amount of time the child(ren) spend with each parent, new marital status/tax filing status of either parent, new tax deductions for health insurance or mortgage interest payments, and a change to the parties’ spousal support order. 

How the court determines a child support modification

Female lawyer meeting with clients

At a hearing for child support modification, the court will review the current financial circumstances of the parties and issue a new guideline order if any of the child support inputs have changed.

The parties can also address child support add-ons such as payments for uncovered medical/dental expenses, childcare, and extracurricular activities in addition to the base child support order. 

When issuing a new child support order, the court has the ability to make the new amount retroactive to the date of filing of the initial motion as long as the new circumstances that the order is based on were in place at that time.

A new retroactive child support order will result in an overpayment or underpayment of support that will have to be equalized between the parties. The court will often structure a payment plan to ensure the child support equalization payments are affordable and fair.


MOFU Child Support Guide