The Impact of Not Paying Child Support


by Chris Torrone



There are a variety of reasons a parent could fall behind on child support. Adverse financial circumstances and involuntary unemployment are two common reasons, though some parents simply choose not to pay regardless of their financial situation. There are serious consequences associated with paying child support. There are also ways to protect yourself and get back on track if you feel that your financial situation is out of your control.

What are the consequences of not paying child support?

The Washington Division of Child Support is required by federal law to provide child support enforcement services free of charge, funded by the federal government and the state of Washington. When child support is enforced, the most common consequence of not paying child support is that your wages, unemployment benefits, tax return, or other income can legally be garnished. The state can seize finances directly from your bank account or withhold your tax return until they determine how much should be redirected to your ex and children. Personal property such as vehicles, land, or houses can have a lien filed against them or be seized altogether. Property held in a safety deposit box can be seized and you can even have items taken and placed for public auction to finance your missed child support payments.

Aside from the immediate financial implications of not staying current on child support, there are long-term consequences that can also affect your finances. Falling behind on child support can negatively impact your credit score, making it harder for you to purchase a vehicle or move into a new home. With a 12% interest rate on missed child payments, interest debt can build up quickly.

Your driver’s license may be suspended, impacting your day-to-day life and potentially your ability to fulfill your job requirements. You may not be able to renew or apply for a new passport, which can affect those whose jobs require international travel. If you currently serve in the military, failing to pay child support can result in dismissal from military service. Another consequence of repeatedly failing to provide child support is that your name can be placed on the Washington Division of Child Support Most Wanted List. 

If you refuse to pay child support you can also be held in contempt of court. For this to happen, your ex or their lawyer has to prove that you knew about the court-ordered child support, you knowingly violated it despite having the ability to comply, and that you lack any reasonable excuse for the violation. Moving to another state to avoid paying child support or child support enforcement can result in being convicted of a federal offense.

Being found in contempt of court comes with its own set of consequences that will negatively impact your life. You may be fined, required to complete compensatory visitation, your custody arrangement may be modified, or you may serve jail time. Having jail time on your record will significantly impact your future going forward and effectively cuts off your ability to pay child support or get ahead while incarcerated. Incarceration for failure to pay child support is rare, though, because the point of civil contempt is to encourage compliance with the child support order rather than punish you with jail time. 

You may be granted the opportunity to make amends for violating your child support responsibilities. Making amends can include repaying owed child support or giving your ex additional parenting time if you also failed to comply with your visitation schedule. If you can meet the conditions of the court, additional consequences may not be enforced against you. 

parent and children dealing with child support

What if my financial circumstances prevent my paying child support?

The consequences listed above are serious because they ensure that parents provide appropriate care for their children. But they can seem unfair to parents that find themselves in a difficult financial situation, such as suffering a sudden or extreme reduction in income. What are your options if paying child support is not possible because of loss of income?

Your best course of action is to stay as current as you can on child support and immediately reach out to a lawyer to help you file for a child support modification. It is better to make a partial child support payment than none at all because it demonstrates that you are at least attempting to provide for your children.

If you have experienced a change in income or feel you have another compelling reason that warrants a reduction in your child support responsibilities, stay current on your payments while you inform the court. Your lawyer can help you modify your existing support order and help you explain to a judge why you can’t fulfill your child support agreement. Only a judge can change the amount you owe, so it is in your best interest to work with a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the process and can advise you on how best to present your request.

The information that you and your attorney will need to appear before the judge includes your wages, unemployment compensation, any other compensation or pensions not protected under federal law, and proof of the income change, if applicable.

While family law courts work in the best interest of children, they also want to work with parents who are doing their best to provide for their families. By working with a lawyer and providing the necessary information promptly, you are giving yourself the best chance of getting your child support adjusted as needed while also ensuring that your children are cared for. This protects you from unnecessary consequences and ensures your children’s wellbeing is prioritized at the same time. 

When you are facing an adverse financial situation, it can bring up many scary questions. Will I be allowed to see my kids? Can I continue to provide them the support they need? Who can I turn to for help? Our compassionate lawyers at Torrone Law are committed to restoring your family. A free consultation can help us assess if our services are the best fit for your needs.

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