An arrear is a legal term that means someone is behind on an outstanding debt or liability. This term can apply to many different types of law. In family law, it is often used in the context of child support when one parent is behind on a payment that they owe the other.

What are child support arrears?

Child support is the amount of money that one parent has to pay the other after a separation or divorce. The exact amount is calculated by a judge and a court order is issued. Under the order, one parent is required to pay money to the other to help maintain their child’s lifestyle. The payments should be used for things like food, shelter, clothing, education, health, and medical care.

Paying child support is a legal responsibility and there are consequences if you do not pay it. Child support arrears occur when one parent does not pay the full amount or is behind on payments. There are many reasons a parent may not pay including not having enough money, conflicts with the other parent, or that they move away to a different state and believe they do not have to pay anymore.

There are two types of arrears: assigned and unassigned. Assigned arrears happen when the custodial parent, the one who maintains custody and control over the child, is on government assistance. In some of these cases, the non-custodial parent is required to make their child support payments directly to the state. The state would pursue compensation for this type of arrear.

The other type of child support arrear is unassigned. This is a payment that the non-custodial parent directly owes to the custodial parent. The custodial parent has a right to this money. Each payment that is missed is added together. The total amount to be paid is called back child support. Interest is charged at a rate of 10%. For non-payments longer than 30 days, you could be subject to a penalty up to 72% of what you owe.

What happens if you don’t pay child support?

The California Child Support Services is the agency responsible in the state for child support enforcement. Each county has an office that enforces cases in their jurisdiction. In Los Angeles, these resources can be found here. Child support payments can be made online, by phone, or through the mail. You can also utilize PayNearMe or MoneyGram locations.

There are a few steps you can take if you cannot pay but want to comply with the order. You can ask the custodial parent to work with you. This is best to do when both parents are on good terms. While the other parent has a right to the money, you may be able to work with them on an adjusted payment schedule. They also have the right to waive any back-payment amount owed to them.

You can also petition the court to modify the court order. They may work with you if you can offer proof that you are unable to pay the amount requested. These are rarely successful unless you can show a change in custody, a significant change in income of either parent, military deployment, the custodial parent starts receiving state benefits, or one parent is incarcerated. You can also request that the court look at your financial situation and help reduce the debt you owe.

Remember, there can be serious consequences if you do not pay court-ordered child support. The court may do several things to help you pay back support including:

  • Withhold your wages,
  • Take your refund on state or federal taxes,
  • Garnish unemployment wages,
  • Minimize state disability benefits,
  • Get part of workers’ compensation benefits you are receiving,
  • Suspend your drivers license,
  • Deny you a passport,
  • Put a lien on your property, and
  • Charge you with a misdemeanor if you have the means to pay but do not.

How can you recover child support?

A child support order is a legal requirement. As the custodial parent, you have a legal right to the amount owed to you that was declared by the order. This may be easier said than done and collecting child support from the non-paying parent is not always an easy task.

To start the process to get back child support paid, you can do two things. First, if you are on good terms with the other parent, contact them and ask them why they are late. They may have a good reason or they may have forgotten. If you cannot do this, then contact the local Child Support Service office. They will send the other parent several notices to remind them to pay. When there is still no payment after these notices, the office or a lawyer can help you file for other ways to help collect payment.