State and federal laws both have penalties for parents who purposely avoid paying child support. More and more states are passing legislation in support of criminal prosecution for avoiding payment. Now policymakers and child support experts are busy distinguishing between parents who are unable to pay and parents who refuse to pay their support obligations. States are in the process of developing and enforcing more aggressive methods to pursue parents refusing to pay–typically they’re looking out for parents who hide assets from court, refuse to get a job, or are otherwise irresponsible.
Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio have conducted “sting” operations to catch parents in order to prosecute them for their outstanding child support debt. A few federal agencies that help bring delinquent parents in are the Inspector General’s Office, the Office of the Child Support Enforcement, and the Department of Justice; together they created Project Save Our Children (PSOC). PSOC provides health and human services as well as a response of criminal justice for parents avoiding neglecting their children. Many people think that issues of child support are dealt with in a civil court, however, only the enforcement mechanisms and guidelines for support are decided in family court. Failure or avoiding to pay child support may result in criminal consequences. Here are three possible scenarios of criminal charges you could face:
- You may face prosecution under a state statute. For example, if you live in California, then you may face a misdemeanor charge accompanied by a fine of up to $2,000, a year in county jail or both, depending on the judge.
- You may be prosecuted under federal law. In 1998, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act passed making it a federal crime to avoid child support payments by crossing state lines. A parent may also be charged with a felony if they reach a certain amount of back child support, they may also face prison time if convicted.
- A parent may face contempt of court as well since child support schedules are official court orders.
What if the parent cannot afford to pay child support?
The parent who is unable to play must bring up this concern to the court. Instead of letting the child support amass, a parent can make a motion for modification based on change of circumstances. It is important to file immediately in order to avoid too high of a debt.
During prosecution, the state and/or the federal government must be able to prove whether or not the parent has the finances available to pay the child support. They cannot obtain a conviction without proving the parent’s ability to pay and that they are just choosing to not pay the court ordered fees.
If you are a parent that truly cannot pay the back child support you owe, then you should consult a child support lawyer trusts that can help you motion for a modification, or discuss what other legal options you have. There may be an opportunity to renegotiate how much you pay or decrease your debt.