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Want to Avoid Paying Child Support? Know the Potential Penalties

There's no question about it-it takes a lot of money to raise kids. With the cost of housing, food, clothing, transportation education, activities and "stuff," it will cost about $221,190 to raise a child from birth to age 18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After your divorce, as you set up separate households and maybe even start a new family, you may be surprised how much of a financial burden court-ordered child support can become. Of course, you want to do right by your children, but writing that check every month to your ex can quickly eat up a big chunk of your income. It may be tempting to try to skip child support payments or pay less than you are required to. However, the consequences can be very serious for parents who deliberately try to avoid child support by paying less than they owe or who hide assets to minimize the amount they should pay.

A child support order is as enforceable as any other court judgment or decree. A parent who is owed child support can use every legal tool available to enforce the order.

Each state has its own laws regarding payment of child support. Through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Administration for Children & Families, the federal government requires states to have a system for wage-withholding, license revocation and credit bureau reporting, among a number of other laws, to enforce child support payments. Simply leaving one state and moving to another may buy you a little time, but ultimately it won't help you when it comes to avoiding child support payments.

What Can Happen When You Try to Avoid Paying Child Support?

When a parent tries to avoid paying child support, your ex has several legal options to make you pay up, including:

  • Garnishment: Garnishment, also called wage execution or wage garnishment, is a court-ordered method of debt collection. Garnishment is a legal procedure in which part of a person's salary is paid to a judgment creditor. If a father has been ordered to pay child support and doesn't, his ex can have his wages garnished. That means the husband's employer would withhold part of the husband's earnings for payment of the child support debt. When your wages are garnished, the money comes directly out of your paycheck, and your employer will know why.
  • License Revocation: Parents who refuse to pay child support can also have their driver's licenses revoked. Trying to get a driver's license in another state won't help--no state can issue a driver's license if another state has suspended or revoked his or her license.
  • Credit Bureau Reporting: States also have the authority to report missed or late payments to various consumer reporting agencies, depending on how much the parent owes or how far behind in payments he or she is.

Changing Child Support Payments

The only legal way to pay less in child support is to have a court decide to reduce, suspend or stop your child support payments. This can happen if there has been a substantial change in your circumstances after the court ordered you to pay.

A substantial change in circumstances is anything that affects your income or your child's need to receive child support. A substantial change can be if you lose your job, your employer cuts your salary, you have a dramatic increase in expenses or a prolonged illness. Payments may also be changed after children become adults or they start living with you, rather than your ex.

Even finding out you are not the biological father may not allow you to reduce or stop paying child support. In many states, if you are the legal father, you have to pay child support, even if you are not the biological father. However, if a paternity test proves you are not the father after all, some states will change child support payments. If you find out a child is not yours, it's important to contact your lawyer to see if this might give you a reason to amend or eliminate payments, based on the laws and court rulings in your state.

If you find your child support payments have become overwhelming, you should consult a divorce attorney to see if you have any options to reduce the amount of money you owe. Simply refusing to pay is one of the worst things you can do-it hurts your child, it reflects badly on you and it's illegal.