All parents have a duty to support their children. When parents are divorced or aren't raising a child together, there's usually a child support order directing each parent's responsibilities. It's also all too common for parents to skip making child support payments.
Consequences for not paying child support can be serious, and a judge just might issue a warrant for a parent's arrest.
Child support is paid by one parent to the other for the benefit of their child. Often, it's ordered by a court in a divorce action. But, single or unmarried parents can get a child support order, too.
The payments are usually very important to a child's physical and emotional well-being. If that's not enough to convince a parent to make his payments, then this might: There are legal consequences for not paying court-ordered child support.
From average Joes to celebrities, parents can be ordered to pay support. And they face arrest and even jail time if they don't.
Just ask musician-rapper Joe Budden. He's about $13,000 behind in payments. New Jersey police are looking for him, and they're armed with an arrest warrant. Another recent celebrity facing an arrest warrant was football player Terrell Owens. The judge in his case was not pleased when Owens missed a child support hearing.
A warrant gives the police legal authority to arrest someone. In child support cases, there are two kinds:
Criminal warrants are issued when prosecutors get involved under state or federal law. Usually, this happens when a parent owes a lot of unpaid support. Criminal warrants can be enforced anywhere - not just in the state it was issued.
A parent found guilty of criminal non-payment may face a fine, up to a year or more in jail, or both.
Civil or capias warrants are issued when parents file a complaint for contempt of court - not obeying the court's order to pay support. Once arrested, the payor-parent usually is given a court date. He faces a few days in jail, a fine, or both
Parents who don't pay child support face other penalties. They vary from state to state, but include:
- Driver's license suspension
- Not issuing a hunting or boating license - a check is often done when you apply
- Receiving tax refunds or other government benefits
- Taking money out of paychecks or out of unemployment and worker's compensation payments (called garnishment)
Dealing With Child Support Responsibly
For parents with child support obligations, the best advice is to make your payments. If you have financial problems:
- Contact the child support enforcement agency and ask about setting up a temporary payment plan, at least for any payments in arrears
- Seek help from your lawyer and request a change or modification of support payments
Parents who aren't getting proper child support payments should:
- Talk to the other parent, if possible, and contact the child support enforcement agency
- Talk to a lawyer about collection options, such as garnishing the parent's wages, placing liens on his property, and other actions
- Consider filing a contempt action
The law takes children seriously. Parents with support obligations should too.
It's also important to remember that in the end, you'll still owe the child support due for your child's support. Cooperation is better than conflict when it comes to child support, and your lawyer can help you avoid an arrest warrant.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I have to keep paying child support if my ex-spouse gets remarried?
- Who has to pay for court costs and other fees for a civil arrest warrant?
- Is a prosecutor required by law to file criminal charges against a parent who's thousands of dollars in arrears on child support?