As Charleston divorce lawyers, we’re often asked what happens if a parent fails to make their child support payments. In this article, we’ll examine some of the penalties for failure to pay support, what happens if a parent crosses state lines to avoid payment, what to do if you run into financial difficulties that cause to a parent to fall behind on support, and whether a parent still has visitation rights if they are behind on support.
The Consequences of Failing to Pay Child Support in South Carolina
The consequences can be very severe if you don’t make your court-ordered child support payments as scheduled. Some of the penalties for nonpayment of child support include:
- Finding of contempt of court
- Fines, jail, or both
- Garnishment of wages, including unemployment and worker’s compensation
- Exclusion from receipt of certain government benefits
- Effect on Military Standing
If a parent is paying child support through the court and falls behind, the clerk of the family court will issue a ‘book-keeping” rule to show cause. In a rule to show cause, the must appear before the family court to show cause why they shouldn’t be held in contempt. In many instances, the family court will place the parent in jail until they can purge themselves by paying all of their support. If the parent is paying child support directly to the other parent, and the parent falls behind, then the other parent can file for a rule to show cause just like the clerk of court does.
Moving Out-Of-State to Avoid Payments
In some instances, a parent may move out of South Carolina to avoid being brought for the family court for contempt proceedings. However, if a parent moves away to avoid child support, then they are subject to the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act which is a federal law designed to punish parents who move across state lines in order to avoid child support payments. Under the Deadbeat Parents Punish Act, a parent can be liable if the parent:
(1) willfully fails to pay a support obligation with respect to a child who resides in another State, if such obligation has remained unpaid for a period longer than 1 year, or is greater than $5,000;
(2) travels in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to evade a support obligation, if such obligation has remained unpaid for a period longer than 1 year, or is greater than $5,000; or
(3) willfully fails to pay a support obligation with respect to a child who resides in another State, if such obligation has remained unpaid for a period longer than 2 years, or is greater than $10,000.
The punishment for an offense under this law can be up to six months in jail for a first offense and two years in jail for a second offense. Additionally, the parent must also pay all of their unpaid child support.
Financial Hardship and Child Support
Perhaps one of the most unfortunate situations is when it parents falls on tough financial times and can’t make their regularly scheduled child-support payments. In this situation, the parent finds themselves between a rock and a hard place. They can’t afford to hire attorney because they don’t have enough money, and yet they need to go to family court to ask the court to reduce their child support payments. Nevertheless, being proactive is the best way to keep from being thrown in jail for falling behind on support. In the end, it is better to fall behind on credit card or installment payments and use that money to either catch up or hire an attorney than to face a rule to show cause and possible jail time.
If a parent fails behind, they can petition the family court to do one of two things. First, they may ask the court to place them on a payment program to allow them to catch up over time on their arrearages. If the parent’s financial situation has taken a more permanent turn for the worse, then they can petition the court to reduce their support obligation based on a “material change in circumstances.” In many cases, simply showing a loss of income isn’t enough to reduce support. The parent must also show that they have done all they can to reduce their living and personal expenses to try to meet their current child support obligation.
Delinquent Payments and Visitation Rights
In South Carolina, visitation is an entirely separate issue from child support obligations. In other words, a parent who fails to make child support payments may still exercise their visitation rights, and the custodial parent may not restrict access. The right to receive support rests with the child, and neither parent may use support to control or punish the other parent.