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What happens when someone refuses to pay child support?

In an ideal world, child support payments get made on time, every time, and they help a child have a healthy, happy life after a divorce. That child has the same financial opportunities they would have had before their parents split up. They get all of their basic needs covered. In divorce, the court always puts the children first.

The reality, though, is that it does not always go that smoothly. In some cases, parents refuse to pay child support, despite the court order telling them that they have to do so. They ignore their obligations and make life much harder for the children.

The ramifications

This is illegal, of course. No matter how parents feel after a divorce, they have to follow the court order. What happens when they don't? A few things that the authorities can do include:

  • Garnishing the person's wages to take the child support money out of them before the person even gets paid.
  • Withholding the tax refunds that the person may be owed and instead giving these to the other parent to make up for some of the outstanding debt.
  • Taking the person's property and selling it to cover the costs.
  • Suspending the person's license to get them to comply. This could include a business license or an occupational license, meaning they need to get the suspension lifted before they can work. The court could also revoke their driver's license.

Many times, these things work. The parent who refused to pay sees that there are going to be consequences. They may not like it, but they at least know that it's better for them to go along with the order than to refuse to pay.

If they still don't pay, they could even face arrest and spend time behind bars. You may be asking why this isn't the first step. They disobeyed a court order, after all. Shouldn't jail time happen immediately?

The problem, as the court sees it, is that putting someone behind bars means that they will have no income. They're already refusing to pay. To put the child first, the authorities want to get them to pay, not make it impossible for them to do so.

Jail time may make the other parent feel like justice has been served, and the threat of it may work as a deterrent against nonpayment, but it's a bit counterproductive in practice. It may do as much harm to the child as simply allowing the parent to keep ignoring their responsibility to pay.

The legal side

These types of legal situations can get complex, and they may not always play out the way you expect. That's why it's important for everyone involved to know what rights they have.

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