This article is for informational purposes only and does not intend to provide legal advice.
As an attorney who is focused on matrimonial and family law, I stay current on trends involving financial issues. Avoidance of debt and managing it, are major areas people are concerned about when family dynamics change. I have read many articles, books, and listened to podcasts on these topics which all have been helpful in assisting clients. There is almost always the usual array of information on topics such as credit cards, student loan management, and mortgage debt. However, I have seen little, if practically no discussion on how to manage child support. I have represented mothers and fathers in various child support issues such as the establishment of initial child support awards, upward and downward modifications, and violations of support for non-payment who are all grateful for any advice anyone can give them.
Family breakups can be sudden leaving one parent as the custodial parent who receives the child support and the other as the non-custodial parent as the payee of a child support order. Sometimes I find myself representing a father who had no idea he even had a child. A child support order comes with penalties often not found with other debts. The most severe penalty I see for nonpayment is incarceration. Other harsh penalties for nonpayment include suspension of a driver’s license, passport suspension and freezing of bank accounts. There are correct ways to manage a child support obligation before it causes havoc. Here are five helpful tips.
- Have an emergency fund. This piece of advice is frequently mentioned by financial experts. Job losses and hourly reductions can occur through no fault of your own, which can impact your ability to pay. An emergency fund dedicated to child support with several months of support saved, can protect you from nonpayment difficulties. In addition, have enough to pay an attorney if you need a modification in court. Sometimes getting a court date to modify your child support order can also take several months, this again is where your emergency fund becomes handy.
- Do not be afraid to call and hire an attorney. If you are party to the establishment of an initial child support order or can no longer afford to pay your current child support, call an attorney immediately. An attorney can help set up an appropriate amount of child support for you to pay or advise if you meet your state’s laws to get your order reduced.
- Always examine your paystub. Many non-custodial parents have child support garnished through their pay. Often it is assumed payroll or human resources is garnishing the correct amount. I have represented many clients who suddenly realize in my office that their pay is not being garnished, or the wrong amount was deducted. I even have clients who tell me they are aware the wrong amount was deducted but think their payroll administrator is always right. Look at your paystubs and your court order and do the monthly math. If no child support or the wrong amount is being deducted talk to your payroll administrator immediately. Be persistent until the error is corrected.
- Do not be deceived if court action does not occur immediately. When one fails to pay child support, the custodial parent may not bring an enforcement action right away. Sometimes custodial parents may allow nonpayment to go on for years before they bring the matter to court. By the time an enforcement or violation matter is heard in court, you could owe thousands of dollars in arrears plus your initial child support order going forward. Just because the custodial parent is doing nothing about your nonpayment does not mean you should do nothing and not pay as well. Again, this is the time to get help.
- Mind your social media. The custodial parent will always be interested in knowing about your lifestyle. Any tidbits they can discover about what you do, who you do it with, and how much it could be costing, is all information that can be used against you. In my experience posts about new jobs and raises, pictures of too many vacations with your new love interest, and new cars are some of the things that have a way of making it back to the custodial parent. This information can be used to establish an increase in the amount you have to pay in child support. Be mindful of what you post and who your followers are on social media.
Child support like any other ongoing expense is manageable with proper planning and oversight. Being able to successfully ensure payment can be a key component of your relationship with the custodial parent and sometimes your child. The existence of any debt between oneself and another creates new obligations in a relationship. Try to have a plan in case missed payments occur so finances do not get in the way of being the best parent you can be.