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What Happens if I Am Unable to Make My Child Support Payment?

During divorce or legal separation negotiations, the Colorado courts will calculate child support payments based on the monthly gross incomes of both parents and estimates of what each parent spends on the children. The noncustodial parent (the parent without primary custody) will pay his or her share of the obligation to the custodial parent. To see approximately what your child support payments might look like, visit the electronic calculator. If for any reason the noncustodial parent cannot make his or her child support payment, there are options for making a support modification.

Inability to Pay Child Support

An inability to make a child support payment due to income level, unemployment, or other hardship will result in much more lenient measures to remedy the situation compared to refusal. Instead of punishing the noncustodial parent, the law aims to find a solution that will satisfy both parties and fulfill the best interests of the child. In many cases, the parents will make an informal agreement about a temporary modification of child support terms until the noncustodial parent can get back on his or her feet.

Unfortunately, this can backfire and lead to the noncustodial parent accruing arrears and possibly ending up in contempt of court. Instead, file for an official modification of a support order with the family courts. Do this using a petition for modification of child support. The courts allow you to file this petition in the event of a “substantial and continuing” change in your circumstances. You must file for at least a 10% decrease in your current child support order to qualify for this petition.

The courts will examine your situation and decide whether or not to approve the temporary or permanent child custody and support modification depending on your situation. This process will take up to 49 days after the date of filing. If approved, the modification will apply retroactively to the date of the original filing of the motion. At this time, the courts will order you to pay a decreased amount in accordance with your new financial station, such as loss of a job, a demotion, or a disability.

Refusal to Pay Child Support

A parent who refuses to pay child support in spite of being able to afford payments will face very different repercussions than one who simply does not have the means to make the payment. Refusal to pay child support can lead to legal consequences such as:

• A judgment issued from Child Support Services (CSS) for the amount of past due child support. This judgment will include an amount owed and a date the parent must pay by to avoid legal consequences.

• Liens against personal and real property. Refusal to pay a past due amount can then lead to the CSS placing liens against the noncustodial parent’s real and personal properties, including homes, businesses, and motor vehicles. To release the lien, the person must pay it in full.

• Contempt of court. If a party refuses to comply with a court order, he or she may fall into civil contempt of court. The individual may face fines and/or incarceration until he or she resolves the underlying issue or complies with the court’s orders.

• Garnishments. The CSS has the right to garnish, or seize, the income of a person who refuses to pay child support and who has a past due balance. The CSS will garnish wages – up to 65% of the person’s earnings – until the past due amount is satisfied.

In extreme cases, refusal to pay child support can result in federal prosecution. Moving out of the state, for example, can result in a misdemeanor or felony depending on the past due amount. If you simply cannot pay your child support, do not worry – modification may be available instead of penalties.

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