In a divorce with children, one parent typically gets custody of the children, while the other pays child support. Unfortunately, not all parents make good on this obligation. Some simply cannot afford monthly child support payments and only pay when they can. Others do what they can to avoid this obligation. They may come up with excuses or stay out of the child’s life for good.
Child support, however, is not like a medical bill or an auto loan. If you do not pay your medical bills, you may get threatening letters and phone calls. If you do not make your car payments, you will get your vehicle repossessed. If you do not pay these bills, your credit score may suffer but you will not get thrown in jail.
Non-payment of child support can land you behind bars, though. That is because child support is court-ordered. This means that if you refuse to pay it, you are committing a crime—contempt of court. You could face not only jail time but a variety of other consequences as well.
What if I Cannot Afford it?
Many parents want to financially support their children, but cannot afford to do so. Times are tough. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs. The cost of living is rising. Rent prices are outrageous. It is hard for people to survive nowadays.
If you are struggling financially, you are not alone. However, that does not give you the right to shirk your responsibility. If you are having trouble making child support payments, then you need to contact the court and request a modification. If you are seeking a modification in Florida, fill out the INSTRUCTIONS FOR FLORIDA SUPREME COURT APPROVED FAMILY LAW FORM 12.905(b) SUPPLEMENTAL PETITION FOR MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT (11/15). Contact a family law attorney for more information about the process.
You can request to have your payment reduced if you have had a substantial change in circumstances and it is in the child’s best interest. Both of these must apply and only a judge can approve this modification.
A substantial change in circumstances would include job loss, a disability or health condition that makes it impossible for you to work. If your hours got cut back at work and you are now working part-time instead of full-time, then this would be a good example as well. However, if your income is only dropping slightly (like $50 per week), then you will likely not qualify for a modification.
What if you are in jail? You are still on the hook for child support payments, under Florida law. Even if you are in jail or prison, you will need to make payments on time. Incarceration does not excuse you from this responsibility, as the child has a right to receive support from both parents. While imprisonment is considered a substantial change in circumstances, child support is still in the best interests of the child.
You can still file a modification with the court. In your modification, explain your circumstances and state that you take this obligation seriously. You should request a payment plan and ask that your driver’s license not be suspended (so you can drive to work). Do it as soon as possible because the court can only consider payments from the date that you filed your petition. You are still responsible for any payments before that date.
What are the Consequences for Non-Payment of Child Support?
If a parent is not making child support payments, the custodial parent may file a motion for civil contempt. The custodial parent must prove that the noncustodial parent has not been making payments even though they are financially able to do so.
If it can be proven that the non-custodial parent has not been making regular child support payments, then the parent can be subject to various court actions. The court will be allowed to withhold income and benefits and seize bank accounts and assets. If the parent is expecting a tax refund, prize winnings or any other large sum of money, it could be intercepted and given to the custodial parent. If you have a passport and owe at least $2,500 in child support, the court may revoke it so you cannot leave the country. If you have a professional license, such as one for a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, CPA, engineer or real estate agent, that could get suspended or revoked as well for non-payment.
A person could also get their driver’s license suspended and put in jail. Under state law, the noncustodial parent can be incarcerated for up to five months and 29 days. However, jail time is usually only ordered as a last resort. That is because a person is unable to work and earn money while in jail, so this punishment defeats the purpose.
Seek Legal Help
Child support is an obligation that you cannot ignore. If you are ordered to pay it, make sure you do so. If you cannot afford it, make sure you contact the court to request a modification so you do not end up in legal trouble.
Whether you need help getting child support as the custodial parent or need help paying it, Broward County divorce attorney Scott J. Stadler can assist you. We can help you get the outcome you deserve while ensuring your child’s needs are met. To schedule a consultation, call (954) 346-6464 or fill out the online form.