What Happens When You Don’t Pay Child Support?

Under Virginia law both parents are obligated to support their children until they turn 18, or in some cases if the child is still in high school, until the age of 19. However, what happens when a parent stops paying support? Apart from the moral considerations of not supporting one’s children, there are drastic consequences that can have a major impact on one’s life. In fact, not paying support can be just as serious as committing a crime.

First, a parent who fails to pay support can be incarcerated (jailed) for up to one year. This is the most severe punishment a court can impose, and it usually happens after a judge has given a parent multiple chances to pay off their child support arrearages. However, this can also happen before a parent has had their opportunity to present their case to the Court. I have seen multiple instances where a parent did not inform the Court of a change of address, they miss a child support hearing they had no idea was scheduled and as a result end up behind bars before the case is even heard.  Oftentimes bond in these types of cases will be set at the back owed child support amount, which can result in a parent being held until their trial date.

Second, the DMV can suspend your license for non-payment of child support. This can be a devastating blow to a financially strapped parent when they can no longer drive to work. Moreover, you may be ineligible to receive a passport or have your current passport revoked if you owe back child support.

Third, your wages can be garnished, and tax returns may be seized by the Division of Child Support Enforcement. To add insult to injury, if the Division of Child Support is involved in your case you may end up paying far more than just your child support amount. The Division of Child Support Enforcement, or DCSE as it is known among court professionals, will tack on interest of 6 percent per year plus fees. Like an unpaid credit card, this can quickly balloon out of control if left unchecked. On more than one occasion I have seen a client that owed more in interest than on the original child support balance itself.  

Finally, a back owed child support balance can be used to place a lien on assets, just like a regular civil judgment. What many people do not know is that child support can also be used to attach on retirement accounts and 401(k)s through a qualified domestic relations order. This can be a powerful tool in forcing compliance with support orders.

To learn more about the child support mechanisms described above, please contact me at jbaez@hmalaw.com or at 804-320-6600. Yo hablo espanol.

This post is provided as an educational service and should not be construed as legal advice. Readers in need of assistance with a legal matter should retain the services of competent counsel.