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As a Long Island Divorce Attorney practicing in Nassau County and Suffolk County, I am often asked what to do about a spouse who has fallen behind in their child support payments.

If you are a Long Island parent responsible for making child support payments, or if you are relying on child support payments to care for your children, you may wonder what happens if a parent falls behind on making child support payments. In New York, the law has a strong policy toward enforcing child support obligations. It is unlikely that a parent can avoid these obligations, so it is best not to fall out of compliance with your child support order.

Child Support Enforcement
Child support enforcement involves state actions to collect past due child support and to ensure continued child support payments. When a child support order is made payable to the Support Collection Unit, child support enforcement begins. The enforcement may end when a child support order is terminated and all arrears are paid. Once a parent falls behind on child support payments, there are a number of enforcement mechanisms that are used to collect payments. These methods are either administrative or judicial, meaning that they may or may not require going to court.

The New York State Child Support Enforcement Bureau
Overdue child support is likely to be collected by the New York State Child Support Enforcement Bureau. The child support enforcement program has broad authority to collect child support payment through a number of different ways. A parent who is required to pay but falls behind might face:

  • garnishment of wages
  • interception of unemployment benefits
  • tax refund interception
  • property execution such as seizure of bank accounts

These are all lawful administrative procedures by which child support obligations can be enforced without a need to go to court. Additionally, up to 50 percent of a payment obligation can be added to current payments in order to cure arrears.

Penalties for Non-Payment of Child Support
If a custodial parent or a state agency such as the Department of Social Services petitions the court due to failure to uphold child support obligations, a noncustodial parent may be held in contempt of court. This can result in a loss of driver’s license or even jail time of up to six months if a noncustodial parent is ordered to pay but does not pay. A court will consider whether a noncustodial parent has truly fallen on hard times before holding the parent in contempt of court. For example, if a noncustodial parent has lost a job, incurred a large medical expense, or presents some other exceptional circumstances, the court may withhold its power to do so. However, it is important to remember that, under the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA), this decision is entirely within the discretion of the court.

What to Do If You’re Falling Behind
Unfortunately, child support arrears cannot be reduced in New York. If you are struggling to make your child support payments and the arrears are building up, it is possible that you can make a petition for a modification of your child support order. While this will not reduce the amount of child support that is owed in arrears, it can decrease the amount of “add on” child support being garnished from your paychecks, for example. If you have suffered a loss of income or an increase in necessary expenses, a downward modification of your child support may allow you to catch up on your arrears. A cap on arrears may be available to some parents whose income falls below the poverty line. Noncustodial parents who are struggling to make payments are also encouraged to examine child support enforcement for mistakes in amounts, or collection of arrears from exempt income or assets.

Experienced Long Island Divorce Lawyers & Family Law Attorneys Can Help With Child Support Payments in Nassau County & Suffolk County

An experienced Long Island divorce lawyer or family law attorney can review your child support order and assist you with determining your rights, obligations, and the best course of action if you or your ex-spouse is in arrears with child support payments. We have helped both custodial and noncustodial parents with achieving positive outcomes in their child support matters. For a free consultations to learn your options call us at 631-923-1910.

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