“I can’t send you to jail for not paying your car payment.”
“I can’t send you to jail for not paying your mortgage.”
“But I can send you to jail for not paying your child support.” These were the sobering words for the adverse party in a recent Court case I was trying.
Child support comes first. The Judge reiterated what I already knew but the novice attorney in the Courtroom obviously didn’t. She tried pleading with the Judge for a deviation from the child support guidelines and this made the Judge even more irritated.
It can seem unfair, it can seem hopeless, it can seem like you will drown in your debt.
Yet, child support comes first.
If you don’t pay child support you are risking repossession – of your freedom.
You can go to jail for not paying your child support.
Yes, go to jail.
Avoid Jail and Pay Child Support
Here are some tips to avoid getting in this kind of situation:
Pay Whatever You Have for Child Support
Pay something. There is nothing the Court hates more than someone who hasn’t made any effort at all. If your child support is unsurmountable due to your employment then you should be making some effort. I’ve seen people go to jail for all the months they didn’t pay anything but save themselves if they paid even a little toward the child support per month. Wage garnishment is a thing and the custodial parent may seize your personal property, like your car, motorcycle, or boat if child support money is not provided.
Modification of Your Support
File a modification of your support IMMEDIATELY if you lose your job. Typically, someone loses their job and then pays as long as they can on the funds they have and then they stop paying but don’t modify their papers. The child support continues to accrue at the rate of their previous pay even if they are unemployed. You can file it without a lawyer if need be. Just file it!
Do Not Buy Anything New
Do not, under any circumstances spend money on something besides your child support arrearage. In the case above, the opposing party had just sunk almost $4,000 in car. Bad idea. A child support judgement can take your car to satisfy it. Remember again, child support comes first. If you are tempted to create a new expenditure STOP! Also, think about how it looks if you have a $600 car payment and are behind on support.
Document each and every payment you have made. Do not believe the cash you give will be remembered by the support seeking party in Court. If you have paid cash or paid expenses for anything then you will be due credit for the cash and could be given credit for the expenses. Make the receiving party sign a receipt, keep receipts from expenditures, or use another form of payment.
Pay Child Support Even When You Know it Will Effect Your Credit
Forget the credit score. You may be in dire financial straits but child support in Alabama is not based on financial stability. It is based on gross income. If you have to juggle bills and pay late then pay the other bills late. Not the child support. I know it’s hard to accept being in collections or to see your credit go down the drain, but the Court isn’t going to care about your Visa bill.
Be Humble, Even When It’s Hard
If you happen to get behind, don’t be either cavalier or rude about it. The Court doesn’t care about the following, “They aren’t using the money on the kids,” or “They don’t need my money” or one I’ve heard lately, “They’re parents are millionaires.” Really? This particular offender has a jail sentence over his head. If you are behind unavoidably then notify the custodial parent and make good on the payments as soon as practical.
Think of the Children
This isn’t legal advice but important none the less, change your mindset. Most people come in and say, “I want to support my kids” but the thought of paying to their ex really irritates them. I know. I get it. But the support is to insure the custodial parent has adequate housing, utilities, food, gas, reliable transport, etc. FOR THE CHILDREN. Try to think about what the money is designed for instead of being resentful. It will make it a lot easier to pay when you aren’t pissed off about the payment.
Even if you can’t see your children for some reason, it is NOT a valid reason not to pay support. If you are ordered to pay, then you have to pay. The two issues are completely separate from one another. If you aren’t being afforded your visitation then you should file a petition with the Court. You can’t hold the money hostage until the visitation is complied with.
You can’t give the money to the children or pay the expenses directly. You may be afforded some credit if you have to face a Judge but then again, you may not. Giving them gas money or allowance or paying for things when they are with you is not child support. Although if you do, see Number 4 above.
Save for a Rainy Day
Plan for the times you are short on cash. Let’s say you have a seasonal job, like construction for example, if you know that April or December are slow months, put money back to insure you can pay when the time comes. The Court is not going to look at the situation on a month by month basis. Instead they are going to look at the gross income. If you have dips in your pay, then you are responsible for thinking ahead.
If you are already behind in support and reading this then you should file for a modification afford it due to a loss of income of more than 10%. You should begin paying what you can immediately. Inability to pay is a defense to contempt but most of the times it is not the inability to pay, instead it’s paying other things instead of support. And even if you have been unemployed or have less wages, the Court can’t modify the support until you file the Modification. That means the support is piling up with interest.
Contact a Family Law Attorney in Huntsville
Lastly, you don’t have to face this situation alone. We are accustomed to dealing with issues like this and are glad to help you ensure you don’t get your freedom repossessed! Contact our firm at (256) 551-0500 to schedule a consultation or fill out our online form.