I Can’t Keep Up with My Child Support Payments. What Now?

We all want what’s best for our kids, but we might be stuck in a situation where we can’t keep up with support. Your original child support orders were based on your situation at the time, so what are your options? If you are having a hard time paying child support, it may be time to have it modified by the court.

Why Can’t You Pay?

Before you attempt to have your support payments altered, you need to ask yourself why you can’t keep up. It’s difficult to argue that payments were too high to begin with. Remember that child support is a court ruling. The decisions were made based on everyone’s financial situation and the best interest of the child.

If you need the court to alter your child support payments, you must demonstrate that you’ve had a significant, ongoing life change. This is your best bet to receive a new ruling. Remember that failure to meet your child support payments can result in a contempt of court charge. Even if you’re struggling to keep up, make sure you’re paying something. This will help show the courts that you really want to meet your obligations, but you just can’t.

Here are some examples of life changes that could result in child support modification.

Loss of Income

This is one of the clearest reasons to request a modification, especially these days. If the global situation has forced you to lose a job or be demoted, you may need your payments altered. When calculating child support, courts often look at future earning potential as well as your current income. Perhaps the original order was based on an impending raise that you didn’t get. This could also be cause for a modification.

It’s important to remember that the court looks at whether your current income is permanent. If you have another job lined up in a growing business, you could be rejected. Perhaps you just earned a degree. This also increases your chances of a higher income. For modifications to be justified, the court must see that your current situation is likely to continue for some time.

Your Living Situation Has Changed

As life moves forward, your obligations change as well. Perhaps you’ve had a new baby with your current partner. Maybe you’ve started caring for an elder loved one who’s become incapacitated. Major life changes have a huge impact on your finances. If the court finds that your new circumstances warrant a change in child support, they can modify it.

Changes in custody can alter the original rulings as well. For example, you may go from being the secondary parent to the custodial parent. Changes in custody agreements can warrant a support modification. Talk to your lawyer if the original custody plan is different from your current arrangement. This could alter many original court rulings, not just financial ones.

The Custodial Parent Is Making More Money

Your finances are not the only ones to consider. If the custodial parent earned a big promotion or had a major career change, this could be cause for modification, too. Their income should always be a factor in your child support payments.

California’s Child Support Model

California is an income shares state. First, the state calculates the gross income of each parent. The court deducts relevant financial exceptions like take tax breaks, health insurance, union dues, etc. Both incomes are totaled together, since both parents contribute. Next, the state factors in what percent of the time kids will be with each parent. After calculating everyone’s financial situation, the numbers are plugged into a formula.

California’s child support formula is CS = K (HN - (H%) (TN))

  • “CS” is the final child support total.
  • “K” is the total gross income of both parents, already determined.
  • “HN” is the “high net.” The is the disposable income of the highest-earning parent.
  • “H%” is the amount of time the highest earner has with the kids. In other words, it is the percentage of the children’s time spent with that parent.
  • “TN” is the combined, disposable net income of each parent.

It’s a bit overwhelming if you’re rusty on your algebra. Luckily, there are online calculators available. Keep in mind that courts can sometimes make additional decisions based on abuse allegations and other such factors. Even if you know the numbers by heart, courts can still surprise you.

Penalties for Failing to Make Child Support Payments in California

Financial Penalties

People who cannot meet payments are not always stubborn criminals. Often, they simply fall behind financially. The state generally recognizes this fact, and it has created many financial penalties to help delinquent parents cover their back payments.

The state can come after your property. It can force you to sell your house, car, and so on. Even property you share with your current spouse may be up for confiscation.

California may also garnish your income. It can take a portion of your paycheck to help cover back payments and keep, catch you up, and keep you current.

It can also place garnishments on other forms of money you collect. For instance, it can take money from your pension plan. California can collect on your disability benefits. If you collect unemployment or workers’ comp, the state can take some or all of this money. It can also take lottery winnings. The state may also take money directly from your bank accounts.

In some cases, you can be penalized simply because the other parent filed a claim against you. You could be forced to pay the legal fees associated with your child support case.

All these penalties will keep you out of jail, but they are still harsh. Make sure you work closely with your attorney to fix the problem before it goes too far.

Legal Penalties

The court may believe that you are intentionally, criminally avoiding payments. When it does, it can take direct legal action against you. Missed payments could be charged as contempt against the court. You could face up to five days in jail for each count of contempt. Therefore, if you are far behind in payments, you could be in jail for quite a while.

The court could also fine you up to $1,000. Typically, however, judges avoid this penalty, believing your money would be better spent making up for past payments.

Delinquent parents may also be ordered to perform community service. For a first or second contempt charge, the parent may be ordered up to 120 hours. For three or more offenses, the parent may be forced to work up to 240 hours.

Steps to Modify Child Support

Talk to a Lawyer

Before embarking on any changes to divorce agreements, you should consult a lawyer. No matter how straightforward the process is, it is easy to make mistakes. An experienced lawyer can help you avoid them. They can go over your paperwork to ensure it’s filled out correctly. More importantly, they can help make sure you have a sound argument. They know what language works and what doesn’t, and they can give your request a solid foundation.

Reach Out to Your Former Spouse

Parents have the freedom to alter child support agreements on their own. They can write up a plan and submit it to the courts. Obtaining the court’s final approval is crucial. If the new plan is not in writing, it is easy for one party to keep altering the deal further. Either person could also accuse the other of ignoring the original plan without a new, officialized document.

Make sure you have legal representation. No matter how well you and your former partner get along, you don’t want a small mistake to warp the whole agreement.

Contact the CSSD

When former spouses can’t agree to a new plan, you must take the matter back to court. You can’t, however, go straight to the courtroom. First, you must appeal to the Child Support Services Department (CSSD). They will assess your request and decide if it should move forward. If they approve, the matter moves to the judges, and the legal negotiations begin.

If you are struggling to make child support payments, call us today at (916) 571-1550, or contact us online. You don’t have to stay stuck in this situation. Initial consultations are free.