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The Consequences of Unpaid Child Support in New Jersey

By Jamie Berger, Esq.

Unpaid Child SupportFailing to pay child support is a big problem all across the state of New Jersey and carries with it serious consequences. Child support payments range from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands dollars. A parent who isn’t paying their child support is frequently labeled a “deadbeat.” However, failure to pay isn’t always just a matter of willfully ignoring an obligation. In some cases unpaid child support is due to financial hardship, making it difficult for the parent to meet his or her support obligation.

Non-payment doesn’t only result in loss of benefits to the child and the custodial parent, but carries with it other consequences. Those consequences may add to the financial burden, making it harder to meet an obligation as time goes on.

Unpaid child support can be a vicious cycle. Falling behind for even one week doubles what’s due the next week, and so on.  Eventually a Court would require not only the weekly obligation, but an additional amount paid towards the arrears that have accrued. A parent who is ordered to pay child support may fall behind for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the initial child support award was set to high for the person paying to ever afford it. It’s also possible that since the child support figure was set, financial circumstances have changed so drastically that someone who once could afford to pay can no longer continue to pay.

With this kind of change in circumstances it’s important to consider whether or not it’s time to file a request for a modification. In most circumstances, New Jersey law prohibits the retroactive modification of child support. Therefore that would stop reduction of any amount already in arrears, because that child support already should have been paid. Time is of the essence. If a child support obligation is no longer affordable, making an application for modification as soon as possible is a parent’s best chance to stop the accrual of arrears on that child support obligation.

If the parent who is obligated to pay child support gets far enough behind his or her obligation, the party receiving child support can request, or the Court (through the County’s Probation Department) can require, that one or more of the following measures be taken to ensure child support is paid: 1) Garnishment of the child support obligation through one’s wages; 2) Suspension of a driver’s or other professional license; 3) Issuance of a bench warrant; 4) Community Service; 5) Intercept of a tax refund; 6) Suspension of passport renewal and application privileges; or 7) Credit reporting.

Some enforcement mechanisms are automatic should child support be collected by the Probation Department and arrears begin to accrue. For example, once an account has $1,000.00 in arrears or more, the failure to pay is reported to the credit reporting agencies. If an account reaches $2,500.00 of arrears or more, passport renewal and applications are stopped.

Child support is meant to protect children but it seems this system has some flaws. Kids generally do not benefit if a parent is in jail or dealing with mounting penalties that make it impossible to pay down child support. Of course, it is necessary to hold delinquent parents accountable for unpaid support, but many people argue that the current system is just making the situation worse.

However, there may be a way to prevent or break this cycle by speaking with an attorney as soon as possible. With legal support, parents can work to pursue appropriate, manageable support orders in the first place so that they don’t miss a child support payment. Additionally it’s possible to seek a modification of a support order if changes in the parent’s financial situation render the current support order one inappropriate. It’s best to do seek that change before one missed payment becomes two and then spirals out of control.

For more information, or to talk about your child support options with one of our licensed and experienced New Jersey matrimonial law attorneys, give our office a call at 973-710-4366.

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At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a confidential consultation with Amy or any other experienced team member today regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.