Decide Not To Pay Your Child Support Because You Think It's Unfair? This Is What To Expect (And It Isn't Good News)
Child support payments can be a thorny issue long after a divorce, especially if you feel like your ex is milking the support payments for his or her own benefit or in order to avoid getting a job. Sometimes the demands for increased support seem to be capricious or unnecessary. So what happens, then, if you decide not to pay? Here's what you should know.
If you're employed, you may be subject to automatic garnishment.
In some states, child support orders are automatically sent to employers with instructions to garnish your wages. Your employer has to comply with these instructions in order to avoid fines and contempt of court charges—which means that there is no point trying to negotiate with your employer over the issue.
If wage garnishment isn't possible, other forms of recovery are.
If you're self-employed or some other issue is preventing the automatic withholding of your support, your ex-spouse can turn to the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 for help. This act authorizes the district attorney (DA) to get involved with the collection process. In some jurisdictions, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) or the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) will take charge of the situation.
In most cases, the first contact that you will receive from either the DA, DHHS, or CSEA will be a letter requiring you to meet with someone and set up an acceptable payment schedule.
If you still refuse to cooperate, there are various ways you can be forced to pay.
While most of the initial letters sent out about non-payment of child support warn recipients that they could be subject to jail time if they refuse to cooperate and attend the meeting, the state recognizes that's counter-productive to the ultimate goal (since you can't earn the money to pay the support while you're in jail).
Instead, the state will probably fine you for the initial refusal. For example, in Maine, you can be fined $1,000 for failure to attend the meeting with DHHS. You can also be fined $1,000 if you attend the meeting but are uncooperative or lie about your income. In Ohio, you could be fined, sentenced to 30-90 days in jail for contempt of court, or ordered to complete community service in lieu or jail time—unless you're willing to turn over the support money that you owe.
If that doesn't work, the court may take more serious actions.
If you still refuse to pay, the court has a number of things that it can do to either collect the child support owed or make your life as difficult as possible until you agree to pay:
The court can go after almost any form of income that you have, except for public assistance like welfare benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Any money that you have in any financial institutions, including stocks, bonds, IRAs, savings accounts, and retirement funds, can be seized.
Your federal tax returns may be seized.
If you are due any workers' compensation benefits, your lump-sum payments could be seized to pay past-due support.
Any lottery winnings can be seized to pay the support obligation.
You can have a lien placed on your home, and any personal property that the courts in your state don't exempt can be seized and sold to satisfy the debt, including things like personal jewelry, a second vehicle, and tools that aren't necessary for your trade or business.
Your professional license can be suspended, preventing you from pursuing your main occupation.
Your driver's license can be suspended or revoked.
Your failure to pay the child support can be reported to the major credit reporting agencies, making it impossible for you to get a loan or other credit.
The court will usually seek a writ of garnishment against your bank accounts and other financial assets. The banks aren't allowed to tell you that your money is about to be seized, either—they simply have to follow the garnishment orders. Similar to the writ of garnishment, a write of attachment can be used to seize your personal property so that it can be sold to pay the judgment against you.
If you want to negotiate, you need to act quickly.
No matter how unfair you think the child support order against you is, it's always better to try to handle the issue through legal means instead of refusing to comply with the court's order. However, if you've already taken the issue into your own hands and garnishments are on the horizon, talk to an attorney who handles issues like these immediately.
While your family court attorney can work to try to get the support payments reduced, an attorney who handles writs of garnishment and writs of attachment can often negotiate with the court to get the garnishment orders modified so that you still have enough income to live on and, if you're self-employed, keep your business afloat. He or she may also be able to help you keep more of your personal property by using the various exemptions allowed under your state's laws. Contact a law firm like Stuart J Sinsheimer to get help.