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What are the penalties for failing to pay child support?

Child support is the payment of money from one parent to the other for the benefit of their shared children. In California, the duty to financially support children is considered a parent's first priority, above other financial obligations and, in some cases, even above a parent's responsibility to phycially care for a child.

In California, child support is set according to a stautory formula, called the "guideline."  The formula considers only three factors: the parent's income form all sources; the actually income tax due on that income (after accounting for all tax deductions and credits) and the amount of time a cbhild spends under each parent's roof.  Patents can agree to set child support at a figure differenf from the guideline amount, but the authoirty of a judge to do so in limited.  Agreements and orders for child support may alsways be modified if there is a chnage in circumstances.  However, no change of circumstances is required to increase child support up to the guideline amount if the current order is for less than the guideline amount.

Failing to abide by the terms of a child support agreement or order can result in the imposition of significant penalties on California parents. Like all court orders, a non-complying parent can be held in contempt of court, which can involve fines or even jail time.

Financial penalties can also attach to the failure of a parent to maintain their child support obligation.  Unpaid child suport accrues statutory interest at the rate of 10% per year.  Interest begins to accrue 30 days after the supoirt payment was due. 

If the other parent has to take you to court to enfoce the payment of child support, they are presumptively entited to an award of attorneys fees from non-complying parent.

A parent may also see their profesisonal or drivers licenses suspended if they fall into arrears on their child support obligation.  A parent may also have their application for a passport denied if they are behind on their payments for their kids.

A parent may have their tax refunds seized by the state and have the money they would have gotten applied to their outstanding child support balance. Courts can order that a parent's bank accounts be frozen, their wages garnished and their credit score impacted when they do not meet the requirements of the child support agreements and orders.

Criminal penalties can also attach to a parent's child support delinquencies, and parents who believe that they may be subject to these and other enforcement tactics can discuss their concerns with their family law attorneys. This post is offered as an overview of some of the ways that child support can be enforced but is not intended to be read as specific legal advice.

Addiional information: FindLaw, "Child Support Enforcement in California," accessed October 10. 2017

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