The family law term for when a parent fails to make mandated payments and child support becomes past due is “child support arrears.” Most often, this does not occur intentionally. However, parents cannot escape paying court mandated child support, even if they choose to move to another state. If you are owed child support, it is essential to know and understand the options you have to resolve the issue.
What are Child Support Arrears?
Child support arrears are past support payments that have not been paid. Many parents without primary custody, called non-custodial parents, are required by the court to provide financially for their child until they reach 18 years of age in Washington. A judge determines the exact monthly or periodic payment amount, then issues a court order. The order will contain how frequently the child support payment must be made, along with the date by which the party must pay. Once that date passes (e.g., the 1st or 15th), the payment is considered late.
There are two types of arrears in Washington:
Assigned: if the custodial parent is on government assistance, the non-custodial parent must make their child support payments to the Division of Child Support (DCS), a state agency. If they fail to do so, the state will attempt to recover compensation for assigned arrears.
Unassigned: the custodial parent did not get public assistance, and the child support payments must be made directly to them. Each missed payment will be combined, and the total amount is called back child support.
Parents can fall behind on child support payments for a variety of reasons, such as disagreeing with the amount owed, losing their job or experiencing other negative changes in their circumstances. Nonetheless, it can put the custodial parent at a financial disadvantage when they are trying to maintain their child’s lifestyle.
What Happens if One Parent Doesn’t Pay Child Support?
Child support orders in Washington are legal obligations. That means parents who have outstanding child support obligations can be held in contempt of court and fined, or possibly face jail time. Additionally, their driver’s license can be revoked, as well as any other professional license. States also have the authority to report missed or late payments to various consumer reporting agencies.
Parents who are having difficulty making payments have the option of going back to court to seek a modification to their existing child support order. Only a judge can change the amount owed.
How Can Child Support Arrears Be Recovered?
The best and easiest method for recovering child support arrears is speaking with the other parent to find a solution. However, depending on your situation, contacting the other parent may not be an option. When that is the case, the DCS is required by the state of Washington to provide free child support enforcement. After the grace period has ended on a late payment, the DCS will automatically attempt to collect child support arrears through wage garnishment. Wage garnishment is a court-ordered method of debt collection, which takes money directly out of the non-custodial parent’s paychecks.
Several other enforcement tools that can be used include:
Interception of their tax refunds.
Placing liens on their property.
Holding them in contempt of court.
Hiring a collection agency to pursue them.
Revoking their driver’s or professional licenses.
Denying or refusing to renew their passport.
Pursuing interstate collections authorized by federal statute.
There is a time limit to collect child support arrears in Washington, which gives you 10 years past the date that your youngest child turns 18.
Getting Help from a Spokane Child Support Lawyer
Twyford Law Office is here to help when you need it most. We offer a free consultation with an experienced Spokane child support attorney. Contact us online or call today (509) 327-0777.