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What are the Penalties of Child Support Arrears?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are numerous potential penalties for someone in child support arrears, though these are only general guidelines and specific penalties can vary from state to state and in different countries. In the United States (US), each state can have different laws governing the penalties used to enforce child support payments, though there are also federal guidelines. These penalties can include suspension of a driver’s license, suspension of professional licenses, and the revocation of a passport. There are also more direct penalties for child support arrears, such as seizure of tax returns, seizure of bank accounts, and even arrest and serving time in jail.

Child support arrears is the condition in which someone finds himself or herself if he or she fails to pay child support that is legally owed to another person. If someone fails to pay such child support, the owed payments are called "arrearage" and he or she is said to be in child support arrears. Child support is typically any type of payment that is legally granted from one person to another for the care and upbringing of a child for which the two people are the legal parents or guardians. These payments can be the result of a divorce, or simply money owed between two people who had a child but were never married, and are often paid by someone with limited custody or visitation to the person with primary custody of the child.

When someone is in child support arrears, he or she will usually owe one of two types of payments: either fixed arrears or unfixed arrears. Fixed arrears are those a court has ordered must be paid, while unfixed arrears are those that are owed but have not yet been officially recognized and ordered by a court. Once the arrears are legally recognized, the person in child support arrears will be legally required to pay the amount due or face potentially severe legal repercussions.

The penalties for someone in child support arrears usually begin with either threats or actions that can harm the livelihood and professional standing of the person. These often include the revocation of the person’s driver’s license, as well as possible revocation of any professional licenses. Many people facing the possible loss of their legal ability to drive or practice law, medicine, or other licensed professions will pay what is owed to avoid the consequences.

If the payments owed by someone in child support arrears are not paid, then more severe penalties may be applied. These can include the seizure of state and federal income tax returns for use in paying child support, as well as the seizure of bank accounts and the money contained in them. Should these steps not be enough to fulfill the financial obligation of the person, he or she can even be arrested and placed in jail until further payments can be made for him or her.

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Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Mar 06, 2014

I personally think that all of the penalties for child support arrears is apt. Our legal system has many option for parents required to pay child support. If a parent loses his or her job and can't make payments, the system recognizes this and can reduce or stop payments for a certain time period. There is no excuse for not paying child support. It's not very difficult to fill out an application to adjust child support payments due to financial difficulty.

By bluedolphin — On Mar 05, 2014

Some of the penalties for child support arrears makes sense like wage garnishment. Others don't make much sense in my opinion, like the suspension of a driver's license.

Even if a parent becomes willing to pay the arrears, how can he when he can't even get himself to work? Everyone knows that driving is necessary for livelihood, especially for travel to work. Not everyone lives in an urban area where several modes of transportation are necessary. I don't agree with this penalty. Suspending a passport does't make too much sense either, although it will prevent a parent from leaving the country.

By discographer — On Mar 05, 2014

The US probably has one of the best child support systems in place. Not only are the child support payments realistic, there are also excellent deferring penalties for those who don't abide, as well as excellent mechanisms to collect child support arrears.

In many other countries in the world, especially in developing countries, child support systems are a joke. Either they don't have one or the system is so poorly developed that it does not serve its purpose.

My parents divorced in another country when I was 15 and my father was required to pay child support to my mother who had my custody. But the amount was absolutely ridiculous. The payment did not even cover my monthly transportation costs to school. And this was despite the fact that my father made at least twice as much as my mother. The payments stopped altogether when I was 18 even though I went on to college and experienced great financial difficulties throughout.

I think we need to be grateful that we live in a country where the rights of minors are protected and defended so well by our legal system.

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