We recently reported in an earlier blog entry that U.S. Census Bureau statistics showed that in 2011, more than $14 billion in child support was left unpaid to American parents, meaning that more than 1 out of every 3 dollars that were due had not been paid.
Unfortunately, in certain instances, receiving full payment of child support may be an uphill battle, as evidenced by these figures. When court orders of child support are violated, remedies may include the garnishment of the payor parent’s wages and even the possibility that the non-paying parent may be jailed for noncompliance. These options, however, require court proceedings which are likely to be costly and also take time. Prior to filing suit in court, there are some strategies to consider which may help in obtaining these payments.
The U.S. Census Bureau report revealed that where the child had no contact with the other parent, chances for collection of support were especially low. Indeed, chances for receiving support increase where the paying parent has a role in the child’s life. It may be very tempting for a parent who is owed child support to “punish” the non-paying parent by preventing that parent from having contact with the child for as long as the support payments are in arrears. However, such actions may boomerang against both the receiving parent and the child in numerous ways. First, a parent’s failure to make required child support payments does not thereby give license to the other parent to then also violate the court’s separate custody or visitation orders. Doing so may subject the parent receiving support to a possible finding of contempt and sanctions. Second, keeping the payor parent involved with the child’s day-to-day activities also keeps that parent emotionally invested in the child and his or her future. Accordingly, even if that parent is unable to meet the required payments at the present time, his or her connection with the child may make it far more likely that payments will be made in the future if financial conditions improve. This possibility, however, is virtually eliminated if the paying parent is cut out of the child’s life.
In addition, if possible, attempts should be made to discuss the situation with the other parent to determine if a compromise can be reached. This does not mean that the paying parent will be let off the hook for any payments which are already owed, as each non-payment becomes a judgment against that parent. However, if the reality is that there has been a substantial change in circumstances and the other parent is simply unable to make the full required payment, perhaps at least some portion of the payment can be made. Based upon the well-known adage that “something is better than nothing,” this approach may provide an incentive to the payor parent to at least pay what can be paid, rather than give up and pay nothing at all. If no agreement can be reached and the other parent has experienced a negative change in circumstances, the best approach may be to go back to court to reduce the amount of support to what can be paid, and then later, if and when finances improve, the amount can be raised again. As stated, this would not let the payor parent off the hook for what is previously owed.
Indeed, although litigation ratchets up emotions and increases costs, there may come a time when there is no other choice. Where the payor parent makes no effort to pay after an extended period, the only option may be to file a petition in court for enforcement. The ultimate remedies can include the garnishment of wages and tax refunds; the suspending of driver’s, occupational and professional licenses; and, in the worst case scenario, the ordering of the non-paying parent to jail for violation of the court’s order.