What happens if a parent doesn’t pay their court ordered child support?
Of all the financial obligations someone might have, child support is one of the “stickiest” in terms of how strictly it’s enforced. Anyone who decides to not stay current on their court-ordered child support payments is at serious risk of criminal penalties and having pretty much all of their finances invaded. In short, the state of New Mexico will stop at nothing to ensure that parents are able to obtain the child support they need in order to ensure their children grow up in a healthy environment.
When someone is behind on child support, the receiving parent can notify the New Mexico Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED). They can also file a motion of their own to demand payment from the obligator, or the parent who is ordered to pay child support. The obligator could face contempt of court charges for non-payment, and their wages may be garnished so that child support contributions are taken directly from them.
Non-payment of child support is a serious offense, and it’s one that will follow the deadbeat parent around until they become current on payments — including all those in arrears. If you are facing challenges with a deadbeat parent and you wish to get the court to intervene and take up enforcement actions, reach out to an experienced New Mexico child support lawyer.
Child Support Must Be Ordered By the Courts to Be Enforceable
First, know those child support agreements are only binding when they have been formulated by the court as part of the divorce decree. Any time there are children in a marriage, the courts will expect the parents to perform the child support calculations in order to determine if support is needed. In extremely rare cases, parents’ contributions will be equal, negating the need for support. But in nearly every case, one parent will have custody more often than the other because of the timeshare arrangement, creating a situation where the primary custodial parent has higher support costs than the other parent. Nearly any time this situation arises, the court will order the parent that spends less time with the children to make payments to the primary caregiver parent.
Before the dissolution of a marriage is finalized, both parents should make sure that the child support arrangement in the decree will work for their financial needs. If the primary caretaker parent thinks they may need more support, they should be sure to document the costs with the help of a family law attorney in New Mexico. If the obligator parent feels that the child support payments are too high for them to keep up, they should make sure that the court understands their need.
Once the divorce decree is signed, both parents are legally obligated to follow it. Any informal agreements that violate the decree could be grounds for a motion to enforce — and simultaneous contempt of court proceedings. In other words, not following the decree is breaking the law.
If changes or new understandings arise, both parents should petition to have the decree modified. That includes if one or both parents’ job situation or financial standing changes. There’s no “wiggle room” when it comes to this aspect of the law.
What Are the Penalties in New Mexico for Non-Payment of Child Support?
Non-payment is considered a serious offense. The court will take actions that can criminally punish the obligator parent while also making every effort to recover any payment in arrears.
One of the first possible penalties is that the parent will be ordered to appear before a hearing. The presiding judge may find the obligator parent in contempt of a court order, and they may assign fines or even jail time to the deadbeat parent.
The court may also take additional steps to secure the payments owed. Wage garnishment is the most common response. Under this arrangement, the court orders your employer to withhold a certain amount of your check and then send that amount directly to the CSED or the recipient parent.
It is also possible for the court to intercept any tax return payments as well as unemployment benefits and other federal and state payments.
Other possible penalties include:
- Liens or asset seizure for property like homes and autos
- Restriction or revocation of driver’s license and passports
- Restriction or revocation of commercial or professional licenses
- The parent may be reported to credit agencies
Of note is that a parent can be sued for payment in arrears. In these cases, all of the back child support they owe could become the basis of a judgment enforcing payment, opening the parent up to bank levies, and other financial interceptions. The parent’s child can even sue them once the child turns 18, so parents should remember that there’s no avoiding paying every cent of child support owed.
Child Support Obligations Cannot Be Avoided During Hardship or Bankruptcy
Child support payments are one of those debts you are legally obligated to pay no matter what your situation is. This includes if a parent is filing for bankruptcy or asking for other forms of relief and forgiveness during financial hardship. None of these “escape hatches” exist for child support. A parent is only allowed to stop paying once the child reaches age 18 or if the divorce decree is modified to no longer include child support.
Again, if an obligator parent is facing hardship or has any other reason to feel that the child support arrangement should be changed, they should never take the matter into their own hands. They should petition to have the divorce decree modified instead.
Sometimes, obligator parents feel they are “off the hook” for child support when the other parent does not hold up their end of the visitation agreement. In this situation, the obligator must keep making payments, and if they want the visitation agreement enforced they must file a motion for enforcement of the divorce decree rather than assuming they no longer have to follow the decree themselves.
Get Help Enforcing Child Support Orders With a New Mexico Family Law Attorney
Child support non-payment can follow the obligator everywhere — and it should. If they are serving in the military, for example, the military will not hesitate to withhold certain payments and benefits. The service member’s superior officer may even punish them for their dishonorable behavior.
New Mexico Financial & Family Law wants all families to be financially secure and all children to have access to the means they need to thrive. We are available to help document non-payment, file a motion to enforce child support orders, and hold the deadbeat parent accountable for their actions. If you have any questions or would like assistance on your case, you can obtain a no-risk consultation at any time. Call (505) 503-1637 or contact us online to schedule your appointment now.