Debbie and Mark divorced five years ago. As part of their divorce settlement, Debbie was named the primary caregiver for their three children and would receive monthly child support payments from Mark. For the first few years, those payments came in regularly and on time. But for various reasons, Mark has fallen behind, occasionally only making partial payments and sometimes skipping payments completely. This has created a situation where the unpaid amount — known in the legal world as arrearages or arrears — grows over time and is still considered monies owed to Debbie.
What does it mean to be in arrears with child support payments, and what can happen if you are? We will explain in today’s blog post.
The Legal Obligation To Pay Child Support
Child support is Court-ordered payments to help care for and support a child’s basic needs. Examples of basic needs can include food, shelter, clothing, etc., and a parent cannot avoid this obligation. After all, getting divorced does not change the fact that your child’s best interests are at the center of every decision the Court makes. So, if a judge says you have to pay child support, you must pay what they tell you to pay.
That said, paying parents fall into arrears all the time — either because they are purposely neglecting to make payments in compliance with a child support order or because they have suffered a job loss, injury, or illness and are struggling to keep up.
Again, arrears means unpaid or past-due child support, and they can add up quickly. If you are in arrears with child support payments and do nothing about it, the other parent has several options. One is to request what is called a motion to enforce child support order. What this means in layman’s terms is that the other parent is requesting the Court to hold you in contempt for failing to pay child support (failing to obey the court order), order you to pay their attorney fees, and/or impose a jail sentence for you to serve in the county jail.
How Can I Get Out of Arrears With My Child Support Payments?
One option is to determine the total amount of unpaid or past-due child support and pay it in full before any Court involvement. Another is to talk to the other parent, let them know your situation, and see if you can work out a temporary arrangement until you can get caught up. You can then proceed to make your regular payments as scheduled moving forward. That said, life is fluid. And while the child support order that was signed when you got divorced is meant to be a static document, there are situations where enough has changed in your life or the child’s life that you can request to have the original order modified.
These suits request to change the amount, scope, or duration of Court-ordered child support. If the parties agree to make a change, the Court will generally accept that change. However, if the parties do not agree on a change, the party wanting the change needs to prove there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances.
A few examples of what a Court might consider acceptable material and substantial change include:
- A significant increase or decrease in either parent’s income
- A change in needs for the child (new medical needs, increase in medical costs, etc.)
- The paying parent is sick or has suffered a disability
- A change in the child’s residence from one parent to the other parent or to a third party.
One of the most common reasons is a change in either parent’s income. For example, if your income in 2019 was $80,000 a year, but you have since been demoted and had your earnings cut in half, you may be able to have your child support payments decreased. This is because the payments are based primarily on parental income.
Call Nelson Law Group today!!
When it comes to protecting your family’s future for years down the road, it is imperative to have an estate planning attorney in your corner at all times. Give our knowledgeable staff here at Nelson Law Group, PC, a call if you have any questions. Our staff is always available.
For more information about Brett A. Nelson, click here.