Sometimes life circumstances can strike quickly. Maybe you have always made every child support payment on time for years, but an emergency arises that puts your finances in danger. You want to do the right thing as a parent, but you are uncertain about the future. Know that you are not alone in this. Our lawyers in Merrillville, Indiana are here to help you navigate through what can become a very difficult situation.
The Child Support System was created to ensure that children from divorced parents have financial means to be successful in life. The goal is not only to provide for housing, food and clothing needs, but even needs beyond just the basic essentials. Child support payments can be used to cover expenses such as rent, utilities, medical care, educational needs and more. However, the system is not without its flaws. If a parent is assigned a child support fee that they do not have the means to pay, they can find themselves facing serious consequences.
Consequences of Not Paying Child Support:
- Loss or suspension of driver’s license: Applicable in all 50 states
- Wage garnishment: Court-ordered for an employer to withhold a percentage of the indebted person’s wages
- Seizure of tax returns: Usually applies along with the court-ordered garnishment
- Denial of passport: If applying, the process can be held up due to debts and garnishment
- Property Liens: Applicable to the sale of any property including land, homes or vehicles
- Credit Score Penalties: Child Support Enforcement Agencies may report debts to credit bureaus
- Jail Time: As Child Support Payments are a court order, you can be held in contempt of court charges for missed payment
- Felony Charges: If the individual is more than $10,000 in debt with no payment attempts, the state can file felony charges facing fines and up to two years in prison
Although being unable to make child support payments can have serious consequences, we are here to help. Unexpected unemployment, medical expenses and income changes are things that affect most people from one time to another. This can be a very stressful time, especially in wanting to support your family and not being falsely labelled as a “deadbeat”. It is important to take immediate steps when you know your situation is changing. Here are some tips we highly recommend:
Request for A Modification
First of all, if your circumstances change unexpectedly and you cannot keep up with your payments, speak with the Office of Child Support Enforcement immediately in the state that originally issued your child support order. Communicate how your financial situation has changed and formally request a modification. Please note, only a judge can change the amount that you pay.
The original amount you were assigned to pay in child support was calculated using your income and finances provided at that time. The Child Support Enforcement office can help assist you in the process and documentation in requesting a modification, and determine if you have a legitimate claim. They can help you create a plan for payment that matches your current circumstances. Remember it is much better to request a modification rather than to not make payments at all.
Keep a Record of Your Finances and Any Changes
No matter the circumstance, make sure to carefully document all of your bills, taxes, living expenses, pay stubs, etc. to show how your finances are in a different state than they were before. This is critical for your protection in any disputes and will help the court in recognizing a formal modification.
Communicate Clearly With Your Former Spouse
While not a legal requirement, it is important to have open communication with your former spouse. This can help avoid a more complicated legal situation, and family tensions with your child due to missed or late payments. No matter the history of your relationship, try to build a pathway of trust. Explain your situation honestly, and that you are applying for a modification with Child Support Services. You can work together to make sure that your child’s needs are met. Remember that oral agreements are not legally binding, but they can create a space for understanding and to avoid more stressful legal disputes in the future. It is important to remember that the child support order must be formally modified by a judge to be legally binding.
Make All Court Appearances
If you have already missed payments and the court orders you to make an appearance, make sure you do not miss the date. This will cause an arrest warrant to be issued and only make the situation worse for you. In this case, we suggest hiring an attorney with a specialization in child support modification. On your court date, you will need to show documentation of why the payments were missed. Make sure that you are able to provide tax returns, pay stubs, and proof of income. Additionally, you may want to bring a list of employers, places you have applied for employment, as well as living expenses and any other important documentation for your financial situation.
Prioritize Your Expenses
Despite how your circumstances may be changing, there will be reductions in spending and sacrifices that you may need to make. No matter what challenges you are facing, make sure that child support payment is at the top of your priority list. We recognize that this can be a stressful and frustrating time. Don’t become disheartened, there are specific ways that you can address your financial issues and still meet your child support requirements. This will take time and patience, but it can be done.
Of course, due to the seriousness of missing child support payments, if you are seeking help in a request for child support modification, we recommend reaching out to a family lawyer who can offer counsel and guidance to your specific situation. We can provide resources and guidance at the Law Office of Julie R. Glade, RN, JD. For more information and to set up a consultation please visit https://www.julieglade.com/