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What Happens If I Don’t Pay My Child Support?

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When a couple is divorcing, it’s always a complicated matter. The parties may agree to an amicable split, but it can often turn ugly. This is never truer than when children are involved, even if you weren’t legally married to your co-parent.

Child support issues can become very contentious. It can also become the source of stress and anxiety for parents worried their former spouse won’t live up to his or her end of the agreement when it comes to providing child support for the children. We’d like to share information that’s helpful to you during such a difficult time. 

Here’s What Happens If You Don’t Pay All or Part of Your Child Support in New Jersey

If you’re ordered by a court to pay child support, it’s important that you pay as required. Translation: Pay the full amount each month at the designated time outlined in your divorce decree. 

If you don’t pay the support, or if the payments are only partial or late, then your former spouse can report you to the New Jersey Child Support Agency. This agency has several different options for handling this kind of situation, including possibly serving a warrant to compel you to appear in court to answer the charges. 

Other options include withholding or garnishing your wages, reporting you to a credit agency, or seizing your assets. If you receive money from the government, such as a tax refund or lottery prize, this can also be claimed by your former spouse to offset the child support you owe. In some cases, you can also have your driver’s license or professional (occupational) license suspended until you pay the child support money you owe.

Fixed Arrearage and Unfixed Arrearage

If you fail to pay your child support, then get used to hearing terms like “arrearage” and “arrears.” When you owe money for child support, the total you owe is referred to as arrearage. 

If a court has ruled and finds you to be past due on your child support, this amount is called a “fixed arrears.” If a court hasn’t addressed this issue, it’s called “unfixed arrears.” However, your former spouse can file an enforcement application to have the court handle the issue for them. 

The Process of Collecting Late Child Support Payments

If you’re owed late child support, there’s a process to follow to collect that money. The first is to file for an application for enforcement. This basically gets the legal system involved so you don’t have to collect the money yourself. 

This application can be filed by yourself, your attorney, or a probation officer if the probation department is supervising the case. (If the parent paying the support is on probation, the probation officer can have them brought up on contempt of court charges if they fail to pay child support.) 

Once the court system is involved, the parent must pay the support on time. If they’re more than two weeks (14 days) late, the probation officer will present this to the court and petition on behalf of the parent who isn’t receiving the payments.

“What if we’re still in divorce proceedings when I miss payments?”

If you’re still in the process of finalizing your divorce and your spouse misses a payment, you’ll have to file the application for enforcement yourself or consult with your attorney. The probation department won’t handle a case if the divorce isn’t finalized yet.

“Can I actually be arrested for not paying child support on time or not paying at all?”

If a person doesn’t pay their child support over an extended time, then the courts can escalate the penalties. As mentioned before, the court does have the power to suspend a person’s driver or professional licenses. 

This means if you are, for instance, a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or other licensed professional, then you can have your license suspended and become unable to work at that job until you pay the money owed. For those who travel overseas a lot (especially for business), the court can also suspend their passport until they pay up.

Other measures include reporting the missing child support to credit bureaus. This, in effect, will bring down the delinquent parent’s credit rating, making it hard or almost impossible to get a credit card or loan. Because arrears also act as a lien on the parent’s property, they won’t be able to sell their home or refinance it without paying the child support they owe.

If none of this works and the parent still refuses to pay the money owed, the last-ditch effort would be to have a warrant issued for his or her arrest. At this point, a police officer will be tasked with bringing the parent into custody. The delinquent parent would remain in jail until they pay the full amount of the owed child support.

“Can child support payments be modified?”

The problem with missing a child support payment is that it never goes away. If you fall behind one month, then you must catch up with the next month, or else you could owe big time and the courts might get involved. 

However, the amount of child support can be adjusted in certain cases. For instance, if the amount was set at the time of the divorce and the owing parent has a drastic change in their finances, then the amount could be reduced. An example is if you become unemployed or if your salary is cut, then you may be able to get a reduction.

However, this isn’t something you should just assume or do on your own. You should immediately consult your attorney if you experience a life change that makes it difficult or impossible for you to make your child support payment. An attorney will help you navigate the legal system.

A change to your child support payment must be court-sanctioned by filing a request for modification. You also can’t change your support amount and expect it to be retroactive. If you’re paying $800 a month and are two months behind in your payments ($1,600 in arrears), then you can petition to lower the amount. But you would still owe the $1,600 that you should have already paid. 

As with anything involving legal issues, time is of the essence with child support. You must be cognizant of paying your owed support on time. If you need a modification, don’t wait: Reach out to your attorney as soon as possible.

And finally, if you’re owed money for child support, consult with your attorney to learn about your best option. It’s important to financially protect your children and help with their upbringing.

Contact the Knowledgeable Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Moorestown, NJ Today

If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like child custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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