What if I fail to pay child support?

Not paying child support is similar to not paying your income taxes- it is illegal and taken very seriously by the government. What can the state do? They have several child support enforcement options. One of the newest options is to place child support or administrative enforcement lien on your property, including your home or car, making it impossible for you to sell the property until the lien is paid.

Consider, also, some states have passed laws which allow the state to seize your personal property and sell it, using the proceeds to pay back child support payments. Generally, this can be done if you are more than six months late paying child support. Unlike other types of liens, to get a child support lien against you the state will not have to get a judgment.

Next, the state has the ability to suspend your license. And if you think this is only your driver's license, think again. The state can actually suspend all recreational licenses including your hunting and fishing license, your commercial driver's license, professional employment licenses and your personal driver's license.

Finally, another common tactic used by the state to incentivize parents to pay child support is to intercept funds or garnish funds from your paycheck. What can be taken? Any type of payment from the federal government including tax refunds, retirement payments, and SSDI payments (generally not SSI). Garnishments can also be made from your paycheck, your savings accounts and mutual funds.

Can you be jailed for not paying child support?

Yes, although federal law stipulates that the nonpaying parent must have "willfully" violated a court order before being incarcerated. This generally means the majority of parents who are jailed for not paying child support have purposely withheld or hidden the money out of spite or a feeling that they have been unfairly gouged by the courts.

There is growing concern, however, that some indigent parents are being incarcerated for not paying child support and most of them are incarcerated because they did not have adequate legal representation to fight their case.

Critics of the current system had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would end the practice in its ruling in Turner v. Rogers, but instead, the court ruled in a 5-4 decision that "poor parents are not entitled to a court-appointed lawyer when facing jail for non-payment of child support." The court did decide, however, that it is up to the states to use "substantial procedural safeguards" to make sure that parents who have no means to pay child support are not locked up.

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