What happens if you don’t pay child support?

When a child is born, both parents have a legal duty to support that child.  However, the exact amount of support that is required from each parent will be legally established when one parent requests an official child support order.

Generally, prior to a formal child support order being established (either by an agreement between the parties that is signed by the court or an order made by the court), there are little consequences for failure to financially support your child.  For this reason, it’s important to establish a formal support order as early in the child’s life or as soon after the parents separate as possible, as failure to do so may result in one parent caring for the child with limited financial means.

After a formal support order is established, if you don’t pay as ordered, the consequences can be detrimental.  Below is a list of just some of the consequences that may come into play if you don’t pay child support:

1. Monetary penalties added to support owed.

Failure to pay support can result in owing even more support.  Interest and/or penalties vary from state to state.  Some states charge interest as high as 12%!  Additionally, some states apply penalties.  For example, in California, if you are behind on your support more than 30 days, you can incur a penalty of 6 percent of the amount owed, for each month that it remains unpaid, up to 72 percent of the amount due!

2. Negative reports to credit bureaus.

If you don’t pay child support, the child support agency can report each late or non-payment to the three major credit
bureaus. This can have the same impact on your credit rating as not paying your credit cards or mortgage on time.

3. Bank Levies:

Got money in the bank? Direct deposit? Banking institutions report all of the assets they hold. If you don’t pay child support, bank levies can be placed on your accounts. If a levy is placed on your account, the money can be taken before you even know it’s there.  Imagine expecting a paycheck for $3,000, only to find that only $500 is in your account when you get there… :/

4. Denial of passport

If you owe more than $2,500 in back child support and think you’re going on your first vacation out of the country, think again! The U.S. will not issue or renew your passport until your child support is brought current.

5. Seizure of assets.

Not only are your bank accounts at risk, any royalty checks, dividends, rental incomes, commissions, etc. you’re expecting can be seized also. Your real property (i.e. your home or other property you own), cash, your car or other vehicles, and even your safe deposit box contents are also at risk of seizure if you don’t pay child support.  Nothing is off-limits; your unemployment, disability, or worker’s compensation checks and even lottery winnings are at risk of seizure if you don’t pay child support.

6. Property Liens.

Liens can also be placed on property you have or intend to sell.  If this happens, if/when the property is sold, your owed child support can be taken out of the sale proceeds.

7. License Suspension.

If you don’t pay child support, any of your state-issued licenses can be suspended or withheld until you pay the support owed.  Most states have a system in place that detects whether one who owes child support has or is applying for a business, professional, and/or driver’s license.  Yes, that means that if you have or are seeking a license related to your career (doctor, teacher, lawyer, cosmetology, etc), you may lose or be denied this license until you pay your past due support.

8. Contempt

The consequences worsen if the court finds that you are able to pay support but willfully choose not to. If this happens, you may be held in contempt of court. Contempt actions can be criminal in nature; this means that you could be sentenced to jail time if you fail to pay child support.

Clearly, not paying child support could put you in a devastating position.  You could lose everything you have.  If for some reason you are unable to pay child support, you must take action to inform the court of this and request a change.  Otherwise, your problems will have a domino effect.  Be proactive!