Both parents are legally obligated to financially support their child (or children), regardless of whether the parents are together. If you and your child’s other parent are divorced or separated, the court may have ordered you to pay child support. This order ensures that both parents share in the financial responsibilities concerning the child.
Various considerations go into determining child support amounts. Over time, the factors accounted for may change, making it difficult to keep up with monthly obligations. You might fall behind in child support payments and wonder what might happen if you can’t get back on track.
When you have an order from the court requiring that you pay child support, falling behind can have a range of consequences, including jail time and/or a fine. If you are struggling to make payments, speak with a family law attorney about your legal options as soon as possible.
How Child Support Is Decided in California
Monthly child support amounts can be determined in a couple of ways. First, you and your child’s other parent can work out an agreement together. You can either do this on your own or have a mediator help.
If you and your child’s other parent disagree on child support, a judge will settle the matter. They will determine the amount based on California’s guidelines. The judge will consider factors such as each parents’ income (e.g., wages from employment, tips, bonuses, interest income, and/or unemployment benefits) and how much time the child spends with each parent.
Whether you and your child’s other parent or a judge decide on child support amounts, the order is legally binding once it’s signed. This means you are required to adhere to the provisions unless or until the order is updated. In other words, it is a violation to fall behind on payments, and action can be taken against you if such happens.
Enforcing a Child Support Order
If you fail to keep up with monthly child support payments, your child’s other parent can go to the court and ask for it to enforce the order. Enforcing child support can be done only if a judge signed off on the settlement. An oral or written agreement between you and your child’s other parent cannot be legally enforced.
The court will consider your situation to determine whether you were able to make child support payments but willfully failed to do so. If the judge decides that you deliberately disobeyed a court order, they could find you in contempt. In this case, you may be subject to criminal charges and can be sentenced to jail and or fined.
However, imposing criminal penalties for falling behind on child support payments is generally a last resort. Typically, the court will try other enforcement methods before going this route.
Possible consequences for not making child support payments on time include, but are not limited to:
- Driver’s license or passport suspension
- Professional license revocation
- Wage garnishment
- Property liens
- Tax refund interception
Also, when you fall behind on child support payments, interest will accrue based on the balance you owe. The interest charge in California is 10% per year.
Modifying Child Support Payments
You might fall behind on child support because your financial circumstances have changed since the current order. Although you might be facing difficulties, you cannot simply stop making payments. The court must approve a modification of the child support order.
A change in child support may be considered for reasons such as:
- Loss of job
- Decreased income
- Reduced amount of time spent with the child
- Changes in the child’s needs (e.g., lower childcare or educational costs)
You may be able to change the amount you owe monthly by coming to an agreement with your child’s other parent. If you go this route, you must write up the new terms and have a judge sign off on them. Written or verbal changes not approved by the court are not valid, and you are still obligated to make payments as designated in your current order.
If you and your child’s other parent cannot agree on child support changes, you can request a modification by filing a petition with the court. You’ll be scheduled for a hearing where a judge will consider your situation and whether a modification is warranted.
Simply submitting a modification request to the court does not relieve you of your child support obligations. You must still make payments as ordered and are responsible for any interest accrued during the time you started falling behind.
Get Legal Help with a Child Support Modification
If you are or might be falling behind on child support, reach out to Claery & Hammond, LLP as soon as possible to seek to have your order changed. Modifications are not retroactive, which means you must still remit the full support amount (plus any interest) for delayed payments. We can help seek to have your current order revised.
Schedule a consultation with a member of our San Diego team by calling (619) 567-6704 or submitting an online contact form today.