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What Happens to a Parent Who Fails to Pay Child Support?

Incarcerated person's hands gripping jail cell bars.

Not making child support payments can result in harsh consequences, including fines and, in certain cases, prison time. Whether you forgot to pay or are unable to pay due to a financial hardship, the penalties are often the same. The longer you wait, the more arrears accrue and the harsher the punishment. In the worst case scenario in Arizona, you can land in jail for up to 18 months.

Once a court has ordered child support, the non-custodial parent must make regular payments, regardless of other circumstances having to do with the children. Non-custodial parents often ask if they have to pay support even if the custodial parent violates the terms of custody, such as by withholding parenting time. The answer is yes. Unless you go to court to modify child support, your obligation remains, regardless of the other parent’s behavior. (If your child’s other parent is denying parenting time or you have other concerns, speak to an attorney to deal with that issue separately.)

But if you can communicate with your attorney, the court and the state Department of Economic Security’s Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) as soon as you know there’s a problem, you can potentially minimize or avoid fines and criminal charges. The DCSS has programs to help non-custodial parents who are having financial difficulty making payments. If you are working toward a GED, for example, you can earn up to $1,000 toward child support arrears or other funds you owe. Other programs help those facing significant financial hardships or who want to settle an arrears balance.

If your financial circumstances have changed since your support obligation was ordered — such as due to loss of a job or to unforeseen increases in necessary expenses — you may be eligible to petition the court for a modification of the order. An experienced family law attorney who has successfully represented clients in child support matters can offer advice and, if feasible, petition the court on your behalf.

No matter your financial situation, continuing to pay child support is your first line of defense. Even partial payments while you attempt to modify a child support order may help show the court that you are acting in good faith. Contacting the court and your lawyer as soon as you know you have a problem may help avoid criminal and financial penalties and while you work toward resolving the issue.

Clark & Schloss Family Law, P.C. has successfully helped hundreds of Arizona clients resolve child support matters. Call 602-789-3497 or contact us online for a free consultation at our Scottsdale office.

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