Under most parenting agreements, one parent will pay the other parent child support as part of a court order, even if both parents share custody. In an ideal world, the paying parent, also known as the “obligor,” would make all the necessary payments on time, and visitation would occur without any problems.
Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and some obligor parents don’t make their scheduled child support payments. Whether we think the reasons behind nonpayment are legitimate, malicious, or just plain nonsense, a parent’s first instinct might be to stop parenting time access until the funds arrive. But that could be a bad idea.
The best way to think about child support and visitation is to consider them as two different decisions, based on very different factors. Because of that, generally they act independently of each other when it comes to enforcement.
Family law statutes govern the rules in setting forth child support guidelines which outline the recommended amount of child support. Usually a parent’s income plays a role in the decision as well as the number of children.
Some states calculate the child support amount on a “percentage-of-income” guideline based on the income of the noncustodial parent. Most others use an “income-shares” method, which takes into account the income of both parents. And a few states look at a basic subsistence level for each parent before determining the primary support needs of the children, called the “Melson formula.”
Other potential elements of child support include a portion of health insurance, child care and financial responsibility for educational expenses.
For the child custody and parenting time part of court orders, judges will make decisions in the best interests of the child. The factors considered as part of the best interests standard vary from state to state. Courts may consider the child’s wishes, but only if they’re old enough and state law allows, in addition to considering the parents’ mental and physical health, and maintaining a stable home environment.
Because child support, child custody, and visitation rights are separate issues, one doesn’t necessarily depend on the other when enforcing one of them. So, if one parent fails to pay child support, the other parent cannot block them from parenting time. Likewise, if one parent is interfering with visitation rights, the other cannot withhold child support as retaliation.
While you may be inclined to say to a non-paying parent who withholds financial support, “no pay, no play,” this may only complicate matters further.
Rather than withholding visitation, you’re probably better off reporting the other parent’s failure to pay child support. You may choose to hire a child support attorney to help you address their lack of financial responsibility or you may consider applying for child support services through a state agency.
A delinquent obligor parent may face a variety of consequences in a child support case, including contempt-of-court charges and civil penalties, or even criminal sanctions like a fine or jail for repeat violations.
In terms of child support collection, most states will enforce wage garnishment that requires the non-paying parent’s employer to send a percentage of their paychecks to the state or county, which in turn sends it to the other parent. The IRS or state authorities may also intercept a delinquent parent’s federal tax return and apply it to child support owed.
Finally, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) allows parents to collect child support obligations across state lines. Most states have so-called “long-arm statutes” enabling courts that issue child support orders to retain jurisdiction over cases and enforce their orders in other states.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified child support lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local child support attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.
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