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How to Avoid Child Support Arrears

Every parent in the state of California has a duty to support their minor children. Income, tax filing status, tax deductions, and the parenting plan (i.e., timeshare percentage) will all play a large part in a Family Court’s determination of the appropriate guideline child support order.

But what happens when you are ordered to make child support payments and you fail to make them? In this blog post, we’ll discuss the consequences of unpaid child support and provide solutions for getting back on track.

What are child support arrears?

When court-ordered child support is unpaid, the past-due amount is deemed “in arrears,” which is another way of saying “overdue.” Collectively, the accrued total of past-due payments may also be referred to as “child support arrearages.”

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Why would a parent neglect to pay child support?

A parent may fail to make child support payments for a multitude of reasons ranging from factors outside of their control to intentional avoidance of payment. Common scenarios of non-payment or incomplete payments include:

  • Unemployment
  • Injury or illness resulting in temporary or permanent disability
  • Downturn in business for self-employed parents
  • A reduced work schedule or pay cut
  • A contentious relationship with the other parent

When is child support considered past due in California?

As a general rule, child support payments become late when the amount due for the month remains unpaid at the turn of the next month. For example, if you are ordered to pay child support on the first (or some other day) of the month of January and all of January elapses without payment, child support for January then becomes late on February 1. 

Parties can also agree to a different standard for late payments in a child support order. For example, they may designate a payment as late immediately after the due date passes.

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What happens when you fall behind on child support payments?

The consequences of not paying child support are serious and are not to be taken lightly. It is important to keep in mind that child support is court-ordered, meaning that if you fall behind on child support payments, you are then in violation of a court order.

The ramifications of failure to pay child support stretch far and wide:

  • The other parent could garnish your wages
  • Your tax refunds could be intercepted to cover unpaid child support
  • A lien could be placed on any of your property, both personal and real, which could affect your ability to refinance or sell your property,
  • Your bank accounts could be levied
  • Your driver's license could be suspended
  • Your passport could be revoked
  • Your professional licenses could be revoked, like business, professional, and/or recreational licenses
  • Your lottery winnings could be seized

That’s not all, though: failure to pay child support can result in civil—or even criminal—penalties, both of which can include fines and jail time.

The child support recipient could file a contempt motion against you, which could result in fines to be paid on top of the child support arrears. The last resort for failure to pay child support could be a criminal warrant issued for your arrest.

The state of California has designed these consequences in the best interest of minor children. The state has a sincere interest in ensuring that both parents provide support for their minor children and will go to great lengths to fulfill this interest so that public funds are not used for what should be a parent’s responsibility.

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The solution: modify your child support order

The question then becomes: How do I avoid falling behind on my child support payments? The solution is to attempt to modify—or change—the current child support order if you cannot afford it. 

You may qualify for a modification of child support for a multitude of reasons: job loss, income decrease, the actual parenting plan (timeshare) with your children is different than what was previously ordered, your family has increased in size, or you are simply unable to work (due to disability or otherwise).

Child support is always modifiable as long as the minor child remains a minor. However, you must demonstrate a change in circumstances since the last child support order was made in order to qualify for the modification.

How is a child support order modified?

The quickest—and least expensive—way to modify your child support order is by way of mutual agreement with the other parent.

If you both agree to a modification, you won’t have to go to court and ask for a modification. You would instead write up your agreement into a stipulation and file it with the court so that your judge may sign it and make it an official court order.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes, the other parent won’t agree to a child support modification. In these instances, you’ll have to seek relief from the court by filing a Request for Order (RFO), or a motion, requesting the modification.

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If you are unable to make your child support payments, it is important to get a motion on file with the court immediately. If no motion is filed, the court cannot forgive missed child support payments.

If the judge agrees that the support amount should be modified downward, you may request that the new order be made retroactive to the filing of your motion to modify. If no motion is filed, child support arrears will accrue with interest regardless of your ability to pay at the time the support was due.

Let the family law experts help you with your child support order

If you find yourself in a position where you feel as though the current child support order is not feasible, do not wait until child support arrears accrue. Instead, try seeking a modification of the current child support order, whether that comes through mutual agreement or a request for the court to modify the monthly amount.

Again, you may be entitled to a modification based on a change in circumstances: job loss, pay decrease, disability, timeshare change, and more.

If you are falling behind on child support payments and wish to seek a modification of your current child support order, give Cage and Miles a call today and speak to an experienced child support lawyer about your options.

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