Supporting your children is your obligation as a parent. When you’re divorced, you might be ordered to pay child support. If you get into an accident, that might affect your ability to satisfy your child support obligations.
What should you do if you can’t pay child support because you were injured in a car accident?
Negotiate with Your Child’s Other Parent
If you have a good relationship with your child’s other parent, the best move is to inform him or her of the accident. If possible, discuss arrangements for a modified child support arrangement. It may be helpful to bring a copy of the doctor’s statement regarding your condition.
If you can, provide non-monetary assistance such as volunteering more time for child-care. However, a mere agreement is not enough. You need to put everything in writing and ask for the judge’s approval for the proposed changes.
Petition for a Modification
If you can’t agree on modified terms, leave the decision to the court.
The court will decide on your new support payment if you can’t agree with your child’s other parent. But, after you recover from the accident and get back to work, you may be required to resume paying your regular child support amount. You could also be required to pay back the child support arrears you owe because of the accident.
Keep in mind, the court will only entertain requests where the proposed child support decrease is at least $50 or 20%, whichever is lower.
In some cities like Los Angeles, you may submit your modification requests online.
Prepare to Receive a Lien on Any Personal Injury Claim
Depending on what accident you were involved in, you may file a personal injury claim. If your child support payments are in arrears, don’t be surprised to see a child support lien on your accident settlement.
A lien may be placed on your injury claim after deducting relevant attorney’s fees, treatment fees, and court fees. The lien will also apply to any compensation you receive for lost income.
Social Security Benefits May Be Garnished Too
After a car accident, you may suffer from injuries. Arm and hip fractures, soft tissue injuries, back problems, and brain injuries are common. Some people also experience trauma from the accident which may lead to anxiety and depression.
If the accident results in disorders that prevent you from gainful employment, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits. These benefits are separated into two types: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
SSI benefits receive protection from garnishment. So, your child’s other parent can’t petition for garnishment.
SSDI, on the other hand, receives the same treatment as regular income. Hence, the court may garnish the account to pay for child support.
If you have to rely on any type of disability benefits, it may be in your best interest to modify your child support payments due to a change in circumstances.
Don’t Run Away from Your Child Support Obligations
When it becomes difficult to meet your child support obligations, petition for modification as soon as possible. Remember that modified child support payments will only apply after you file the petition.
Here’s what that means.
If you filed the petition five months after your accident, you will owe regular child support payments on those five months. If approved, your modified child support obligation will only apply in the sixth month.
Your unpaid child support will also accumulate and be in arrears if you can’t pay. Also, you will likely owe a 10% penalty on those missed payments.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
Getting in an accident is a serious matter. Your health may be on the line and your finances may also take a hit. Even if you get hurt because of an accident, you still need to pay child support.
So, if you anticipate difficulty meeting your child support obligations, take the necessary steps as early as you can.
Since each situation is unique, talk to a family lawyer who can help you evaluate your options. By sorting out your child support obligations right away, you can avoid paying hefty fines and facing severe penalties.
Of course, if you find yourself juggling a child support case and a personal injury lawsuit, put your attorneys in touch so they can get on the same page.