Child support payments in a divorce case are for the good of the children involved. As the parent who must pay, however, it might not always be possible to make your payments on time. If you lose your job, get a demotion, or something else happens that interferes with your ability to pay child support in California, you might face penalties unless you handle your case the correct way. Learn what you need to do if you realize you’re going to miss a payment.
Track Your Payments
To address being in arrears, or behind, on child support payments, you must first recognize when you’ve missed a month. Keep track of your child support payments and the amount you owe your spouse. Document your payments so you have proof if your spouse accuses you of missing a payment you know you made. Keeping organized records of your child support payment history can help you avoid legal trouble.
As soon as you realize you aren’t going to have the ability to pay child support, notify the right venue to discuss your options. The California Department of Child Support Services requires that noncustodial parents pay court-ordered child support obligations on time and in full. Just one missed payment can have serious consequences for a parent. Call your local child support agency and explain why you can’t make your next payment to avoid or minimize the consequences. In most cases, you will still have to make up your missed payment, with interest.
Avoid Potential Consequences
Child support arrears are back payments for missed child support payments, plus interest on those payments. In most cases, a parent in arrears on child support payments must pay a large down payment on overdue balance, then repay the rest of the debt in smaller installments. If you do not to pay your child support yet you have the means to do so, you could face penalties such as:
- Suspension of your driver’s license
- Wage garnishment (the state takes child support directly from your wages)
- Additional fines and penalty payments
- Being in contempt of court
- Misdemeanor charge
- Warrant for your arrest
- Jail time
The best way to avoid these serious ramifications is to go down the right path while you still have the opportunity. This means realizing you’re going to miss a payment and notifying the local child support office ahead of time, as well as paying arrears if applicable. Staying on top of your child support payments and being honest with your financial situation are the best ways to avoid serious penalties.
Modify Your Child Support Arrangement
If you’re missing child support payments due to an inability to pay, you can modify your payment amounts to suit your changed financial status. Changing a support order in California requires showing that you’ve experienced a change in circumstances since the judge made the original support order. In general, a judge will approve a request to modify an order if a parent’s income has changed, a parent lost a job, a parent is in jail, or a child’s needs have changed.
Some child support arrangements will involve the Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) while others will not. If your case involves the LCSA, the agency will have a say in whether you can change your order. It may be possible for both parents to make a change to a child support payment, if they (and the LCSA, if applicable) agree.
Modifying your arrangement through an official court order can result in lower payments you can afford in your new financial station – meaning no more missed payments or penalties. Always go through the courts or the LCSA to modify a support payment, not through a casual arrangement with your spouse. Only an official order can relieve you of a child support duty. Consult with a child support attorney if you need help with your situation.