If you miss a child support payment, you begin to accrue child support debt and interest on top of that debt. Continuing to miss child support payments can result in greater enforcement actions, such as financial penalties and even criminal charges.
As you can see, California doesn’t take child support compliance lightly. This is because the state considers both of a child’s legal parents responsible for supporting their child.
This responsibility exists irrespective of custody or visitation rights. While someone may be the custodial parent with whom a child lives, this parent isn’t expected to financially support their child on their own. In most cases where both of a child’s legal parents are alive, a judge will order the noncustodial parent to make child support payments to the custodial parent.
What Is Child Support For?
Child support is intended to help the custodial parent afford a child’s basic needs, such as food clothing, housing, medical bills, education, and other reasonable expenses.
California doesn’t require parents receiving child support to show how the money was spent. This is because there’s a presumption that a custodial parent will provide for their child’s basic needs.
If there is concern about how a parent is actually using child support money, this issue can be raised by petitioning to modify custody or child support, but there’s no guarantee a judge will address the matter.
The Consequences of Not Paying Child Support in California
Failing to pay child support can result in many different consequences that can complicate anyone’s life and lead to unnecessary legal trouble and further financial strain.
Interest & Financial Penalties for Overdue Child Support Payments
You begin accruing child support arrears (debt) as soon as you miss your first payment. On top of this debt, you are required to pay 10% interest on the total amount of debt you owe each year. If you can’t afford the interest, it accumulates as additional debt.
Additionally, if you owe child support arrears beyond 30 days, California may impose separate penalties at 6% of your missed payment for each month that it remains unpaid, up to 72% of the unpaid balance due.
Criminal Charges for Missing Child Support Payments in California
Owing unpaid child support payments could lead to contempt of a court order criminal charges. As a misdemeanor crime, a defendant can face up to five days in jail and community service hours. Judges can also impose a $1,000 fine, but typically don’t because that money could help pay child support arrears.
Other Consequences for Failing to Pay Child Support
Interest, financial penalties, and criminal charges aren’t the only possible consequences someone can face when they own unpaid child support.
Custodial parents who are owed unpaid child support can pursue several different enforcement actions that can result in the seizure and sale of the non-custodial parent’s property or garnishment of their wages. Custodial parents can even place liens against a child support debtor’s personal property or real property.
In addition to these enforcement actions, the California Department of Motor Vehicles may suspend the driver’s licenses of parents who owe child support, reinstating driving privileges only when they pay off their debt or create a payment plan. The federal government may also revoke the passports of parents who owe child support.
Is There a Grace Period for Missed Child Support Payments?
In California, there is no grace period for missed child support payments. The system is rigid enough that you will begin to accrue interest and can face penalties for any late or unpaid child support obligations – even if you’re a day past due.
What If I Can’t Afford My Child Support?
If you can’t afford your child support payments, you must petition the court to modify the order. Losing your job or taking on new debt won’t excuse you from your existing child support obligations.
If your financial situation has changed since your child support was ordered, you must be proactive in attempting to alter it. Bear in mind, however, that a judge can choose to deny any petition to modify child support.
Can I Wipe Child Support Debt with Bankruptcy?
No. Child support debt can’t be cleared through bankruptcy. The only way to get rid of child support debt is to pay it off.
Legal Assistance for Child Support Issues in California
The consequences of owing unpaid child support are significant and can be life-altering. Likewise, unpaid child support can cause significant financial hardship for you and your child. If you need assistance with either of these issues or another matter concerning child support, you can reach out to our legal team at Claery & Hammond, LLP for assistance.