What Are Child Support Arrears?

Child support arrears refers to past-due payments. The person ordered to pay child support may have fallen behind or stopped fulfilling their obligation altogether. The parent owed payments can pursue various options to recover unpaid amounts and enforce the order. Continued willful disobedience of an order to pay child support can result in various consequences, including wage garnishment and incarceration. Because of this, anyone struggling to make payments should take action as soon as possible to modify the judgment. The modification cannot clear arrears, but it can adjust the periodic payment amount, making it more manageable.

At Claery & Hammond, LLP, our San Diego attorneys help clients seeking to enforce or modify family court orders. Schedule a consultation with us by calling (310) 817-6904 or submitting an online contact formtoday.

Understanding Child Support Arrears

In California, both parents are required to support their children financially. If the parents have divorced or were never married, a family law court may order one of the parents to make monthly child support payments to the other.

After the order is made, the paying parent must remit payment on the start date indicated on the order and continue the financial obligation as required.

For whatever reason, the paying parent might fall behind or stop making payments altogether. When the individual misses a payment, this is called being in arrears. In other words, arrears are overdue child support payments.

Collecting Unpaid Child Support

Regardless of why the paying parent falls behind on child support, the receiving parent is still owed the full amount. That means the paying parent is responsible for satisfying past-due and current payments.

The receiving parent can explore several options for collecting child support arrears. The first path may be to go to the local child support agency, which can attempt to recover unpaid amounts. If the paying parent continues to fall behind, the receiving parent may take the matter to court.

The receiving parent may pursue avenues to collect arrears only if a lawful court order is in place. The order may have been rendered as part of divorce proceedings or after establishing parentage and requesting a child support judgment from the court.

Verbal, informal arrangements between the parents are not enforceable. For instance, suppose the parents agreed that one would pay the other $500 on the fifth of every month and shook on it. Although the individuals have established terms and solidified their agreements with a handshake, the receiving parent would not have any legal vehicles available for remedy if the paying spouse falls behind. Thus, it is critical that parents have any informal agreements reviewed and approved by the court. This ensures that failures to comply can be lawfully enforced.

The Consequences of Not Paying Child Support

Failure to pay court-ordered child support can have various consequences.

These include:

  • Wage garnishment: The court can order that a certain amount be taken from the paying spouse’s check each month. The judgment can include an amount that allows for arrearages to be satisfied.
  • Driver’s license revocation: The DMV may be instructed to deny driver’s license renewal. If payments are not made for four months or more, the paying parent’s driver’s license may be revoked.
  • Additional fees and costs: Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 685.010, interest of 10% may be tacked onto the principal of the unsatisfied child support payments. Additionally, California Family Code § 4722 allows a 6% to 72% delinquency fee to be applied monthly after a paying parent is behind for more than 30 days.
  • Contempt of court: The receiving parent may file a petition with the court to find the paying spouse in contempt. This means that the paying spouse was aware of their obligation, either because they were present when the order was made or was served a copy of the order, and could pay but willfully disobeyed. Contempt is punishable by fines and jail time.

Modifying a Child Support Order

The paying parent cannot simply stop making child support payments because they lost their job or experienced other circumstances that affected their finances. They must ask the court to modify the order to adjust for a significant change in their situation.

The request to modify child support should be made as soon as possible. If the court agrees to change it, the modification applies to obligations after the approval date. It does not affect past-due amounts. The paying parent is still on the hook for those.

Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP

If you are involved in a child support matter – whether seeking support, enforcing an order, or requesting a modification – have an attorney assist with your case. They can ensure that you understand your rights and legal options and can pursue a favorable outcome.

To speak with one of our San Diego lawyers, please call us at (310) 817-6904 or submit an online contact formtoday.