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What Happens if Spouses Fail to Pay Child Support in California?

What Happens if Spouses Fail to Pay Child Support in California?

Most parents agree that supporting their children is the number one priority. These parents know that their children need their help – whether it is school supplies, rent, clothing, or any other basic necessity. Many parents are even willing to go one step further, providing their young ones with access to extra-curricular activities, vacations, private school tuition, and much more. But what happens when a spouse stops paying child support in California? What if you are depending on this income to pay the rent and buy groceries? What if you are the paying spouse, and you just cannot afford to keep making these payments? What kind of consequences can these delinquent spouses expect, and what is the best way to deal with this situation? Let’s find out:

California’s Approach to Unpaid Child Support

If you have the ability to pay child support and you are simply not making the payments, the courts in California can take a number of steps to forcibly extract your support obligations. One of the first steps they might take is to create a penalty for late payments. This functions just like an interest fee, although the fee continues to compound if you still refuse to pay. According to California’s family courts, the interest rate for unpaid support is 10% per year. This incentivizes spouses to pay their support obligations on time.

Remember, child support is enforced by court orders. If you violate these court orders, you are breaking the law – and California can hold you in contempt of court. While this rarely results in incarceration (at least to start with), it can result in fines. The irony is that by issuing you fines and threatening you with incarceration, the state of California actually prevents you from paying your child support. After all, it’s hard to pay your child support when you are in jail, or you are being fined thousands of dollars.

Because of this, family courts in California will likely try a variety of other methods in order to encourage you to pay your support obligations. To start with, they may garnish your wages. This means your support obligations will be taken right out of your paychecks before you can do anything about it, and this system has been in place since the Family Support Act of 1988. Another possible strategy involves a property lien placed on your real or personal property. This means that in order to sell your home or cash in on your retirement fund, you would need to pay your child support first. The courts will essentially search for any source of funding they can access to get the child support money – whether it is your disability benefits, your workers’ comp settlement, or even your lottery winnings.

The state of California may even intercept your tax return, taking all of the money and diverting it straight into the hands of your ex. In addition, they may deny your right to a driver’s license until you pay your support. The state of California can essentially revoke any licenses you might hold – including boating licenses and hunting licenses. This even includes any professional licenses you might hold, such as a license to practice law or medicine. Again, this is somewhat counterintuitive. Losing your license to practice your profession prevents you from earning an income – therefore preventing you from paying your child support. The same can also be said for your driver’s license, as losing your ability to drive can make work difficult. In serious cases, your passport may also be revoked.

What Can I Do if I am Owed Child Support?

If you are owed child support, you should speak with your ex and try to work things out without going to court first. If this does not work, your only option might be to file a motion for contempt for non-payment of support. This immediately threatens your ex with fines, jail time, community service, and a range of other consequences. In addition, it is worth noting that your ex may be required to pay your legal fees as you fight for justice through the courts.

What Can I Do if I Cannot Afford to Pay Child Support?

If you genuinely cannot afford to pay your current child support obligations, you should not be saddled with overwhelming debt. Your best bet in this situation is to file for a modification of child support. California allows you to do this if there has been a substantial change in circumstance. Examples include:

  • Getting fired from your job
  • Getting suspended
  • Getting demoted to a much lower-paid position
  • Being replaced by robotics or AI
  • Suffering a career-ending disability
  • Suffering a disability or sickness that prevents you from earning the same level of income
  • Reaching retirement age (in some cases)

The worst thing you can do in this situation is simply stop paying your child support without warning. Get in touch with a lawyer and go through the proper legal process of modifying your support. If you are experiencing genuine financial difficulties, the court should have mercy on you.

People Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support All the Time

It is important to understand how serious this issue can be. People do, in fact, go to jail or prison for failing to pay child support, and there have been a number of notable examples over the past few years. In Texas, a man was put in prison for over a year after refusing to pay over $20,000 in child support. Another Texas man was jailed for refusing to pay $400,000 in child support. In 2022, a New York man was sentenced to 30 days in jail for not paying $8,000 in child support.

Where Can I Find a Qualified, Experienced Child Support Attorney in California?

If you’ve been searching for a qualified, experienced child support attorney in California, look no further than Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP. With our help, you can address any issues related to unpaid child support – whether you are receiving payments or you cannot afford to continue any longer. We know that this situation is not always easy – especially with the economic pressures that many Americans today face. Rest assured that you can achieve financial security and care for your children in the best way possible. Book your consultation today to pursue a positive outcome.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.