Going through a divorce with kids is a big deal. Emotionally and financially, the repercussions are huge. Fortunately for most, once the divorce is final and custody and child support are established, a new routine is set and followed. But let’s consider the case of delinquent child support payments. For a parent trying to make it in today’s rough economy, one missed payment can make all the difference in the world.
I sat down with Brad Goodwin, partner at the Richmond law firm of Reid Goodwin. Brad is a an accomplished attorney who focuses on family law, criminal defense, and worker’s compensation. He advises seeking legal advice to help determine the best course of action for each individual situation, but here are some general pointers:
1. Child support is treated the same for parents who are married and separated, fully divorced, or who were never married. With the caveat of the impact of spousal support on calculating child support to be paid, all aspects of child support are treated the same, regardless of marital history.
2. Delinquency technically kicks in the first day after a payment is missed. However, cautions Goodwin, a person should exercise discretion and act reasonably. If your co-parent has informed you that the payment will be two days late, you might consider waiting a couple of days before taking action.
3. Child support can be garnished from wages. If your co-parent is delinquent, you can contact the Department of Child support enforcement, and they will handle all of the paperwork to initiate garnishment. Although it can sometimes take several weeks or even months for garnishment to kick in, the paying parent is still liable for the payments until the withholding starts.
4. Non-paying parents face possible jail time in Virginia. That’s right, a parent who is delinquent on child support payments can be sentenced to jail for up to one year. Long ago, we did away with debtor’s jail, but child support delinquency is somewhat of an exception. Once there is a child support order requiring one party to pay, the parent who is supposed to be receiving child support can take the non-paying parent to court. The court can set a bond, often the amount that is actually owed. If the delinquent party pays the bond, he or she is released from jail. Most of the time, courts will allow a delinquent party a second chance (or two) to get back on track, but jail time is a real possibility for being delinquent.
5. Child support orders can be modified. Any change in circumstances resulting in a 10 percent or $25 change in monthly payments is enough to result in modification, as long as the change is not intentional. For example, a paying parent who quits a job simply out of boredom would not be up for a reduction in payments, and incarceration is also considered an intentional act and not eligible for reduction. A parent who receives a raise may have to increase monthly child support payments so that the children also reap the benefits of that raise.
6. Same-sex couples face similar child-support legal consequences. Because there could be unique complexities, consider seeking the advice of an attorney experienced in LGBT family law.
The bottom line is this: The law takes child support very seriously. If you owe child support, pay it. And if your co-parent owes you delinquent child support, utilize the resources available to you to enforce that payment, but remain reasonable. Let’s all remember that we are examples for our children.