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How Back Child Support Works – Paying or Collecting

Often, in the case of divorce, one parent pays child support to the other parent, in order to help with the costs of raising a child. The United States, along with many other countries, insists that children have a right to receive financial support from their parents. As such, the non-custodial parent does his or her duty toward providing financial support for the child by paying child support money to the custodial parent. Joint custody cases involve two custodial parents, but one must still pay child support to the other.

Courts determine child support as part of the divorce proceedings, and they follow state guidelines. This means that the law requires the obligor, the person paying the child support, to make child support payments to the obligee, the person receiving the child support. When the obligor does not make proper payment, he or she is considered to be in arrears. The money is considered a debt, and must be repaid. This is known as paying back child support.

Who Pays Back Child Support?

Anyone who has not made child support payments as ordered must pay back child support. The repayment of this debt might include fees and interest charges, in addition to the back child support. For the most part, states handle back child support, although the federal government can become involved if the obligor is at least two years behind in payments. Parents who owe back child support must pay the debt in full, even if the child is beyond the age of majority.

What Happens If Back Child Support Is Not Paid?

The United States government requires that parents provide for the support of their children. As a result, an obligor who does not meet his or her child support obligations can face serious consequences. Penalties for not paying back child support vary from state to state, and the federal government may become involved.

Some of the penalties imposed by state or federal governments include:

  • Suspension of Licenses. The government may suspend your driver’s license or professional license. The government can also suspend hunting and fishing licenses if you owe back child support.
  • Denial of Passport. If you owe $2,500 or more in back child support, you may not be eligible to apply for a passport or to use your passport.
  • Wage Garnishment. The government may garnish your wages in order to pay your child support debt.
  • Seizure of Tax Refund. The government may seize your tax refund if you owe back child support.
  • Property Seizure. In some cases, an obligor might find his or her property seized to help pay the debt.
  • Jail Time. If you have not made arrangements to try and pay back child support, or if you are found criminally non-compliant, you may serve time in jail.
  • Cross-Border Enforcement. Some people try to flee the U.S. in order to avoid paying back child support. Many countries cooperate with child support enforcement agencies to ensure parents pay child support. More than 100 countries have reciprocal child support arrangements for cross-border enforcement.

What to Do If You Owe Back Child Support

As with so many issues dealing with family law and child support options, the legal strategies for handling back child support vary depending on the state of residence. If you have suffered a change in financial circumstances and have trouble with child support obligations, go to the court and explain your situation. In many cases, courts can adjust child support payments, or allow you to stop paying them for a period of time. Just ignoring the problem, and allowing back child support to accrue, can cause more issues later.

If you do have back child support payments to make, you have some options. Begin by finding a lawyer that specializes in family law. Do what you can to show that you want to meet the obligation, and the court may help you find a reasonable solution. Some avenues to pursue include:

  • Re-determining Back Child Support. Correct any errors in the amounts owed for back child support. If you can document your child support payments, and show that the court has requested the wrong amount, you can ask to have the amount recalculated.
  • Equitable Forgiveness. If your child lived with you for a period of time during the time you should have paid child support, the court may take this into account and forgive a portion of your back child support debt.
  • Suspension of Interest. You might have your interest requirements waived, as long as you can submit to a plan to pay off your back child support in a specified period of time. Realize that filing for bankruptcy won’t relieve you of your obligation to pay the back child support that you owe. The courts do not reduce back child support if you file for bankruptcy.
  • Reasonable Payment Schedule. Even if you can’t get your interest charges waived, you can still petition for a new payment schedule. If you have trouble making ends meet, and you show a desire to fulfill your back child support obligation, the court might set a new payment schedule that you can afford.
  • Settlement with Your Ex. In some cases, your ex might waive some of what you owe in back child support, reducing what you need to pay. Often this includes the payment of a lump sum to settle the debt you owe. You must organize these negotiations through the court, and the court needs to approve any settlement.
  • Loan to Pay Off the Back Child Support Debt. In some states, you must pay a hefty interest rate for back child support debt. If you can’t get the interest waived, consider getting a low-interest loan to pay your back child support. You can use a personal loan through a lender like Upstart or you can get a home equity line of credit from

What to Do If You Are Owed Back Child Support

If your ex hasn’t paid child support, you can turn to your lawyer, go to your local district attorney, or contact your State Attorney’s office. You should not try to take matters into your own hands, however. Even if you plan to negotiate and accept a smaller amount, go through the proper legal channels.

In some states, you can receive back child support from the state. The state then pursues getting the debt repaid. This allows you to continue to provide for your child, without worrying about whether or not you will receive the back child support you are owed. Check with your state’s laws and policies to find out if this solution might apply to you.

Final Word

If you owe back child support, you should fulfill your obligation as soon as you can. If you are in arrears, you can lose your license, your passport, and even wind up in jail. If you show the court that you want to pay your debt, the court may be able to make affordable payment arrangements. Make sure to communicate with all of the parties involved in your child support agreement, and respond quickly to any official documents related to your back child support.

Have you experienced issues with back child support?

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer and professional blogger specializing in personal finance. She writes for several web sites, and her work has appeared in numerous online and offline publications.

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