A parent who fails to pay court-ordered support is disparagingly called a “deadbeat parent.” Very often, the term is used for fathers who fail to pay support, i.e., deadbeat dad. Not all deadbeat parents are fathers. Depending on the situation mothers also pay child support.
Not all delinquent noncustodial parents are behind on child support because of willful negligence. Parents who fall behind on child support due to job loss or unforeseen circumstances aren’t necessarily “deadbeats.” Though the term “deadbeat” is used in the actual legislation of some states, it is often misunderstood. “Deadbeat” is generally reserved for those who have the means to pay but do not. Parents who are unable to pay may be eligible for child support modification.
According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2009 42% of custodial mothers received all child support that they were owed while 70.5% received some, and 34.1% of custodial fathers received all child support that they were owed while 72.9% received some. According to one California study, 76% of the $14.4 billion in child support arrears in California has been attributed to obligors who cannot pay, and of those deadbeat parents, there was a median annual income of $6,349, arrearages of $9,447, and ongoing support of $300 per month. Additionally, more than 70 percent of those support orders were set by default – meaning that the person who supposedly owes support was not personally served with a notice to appear before the court or administrative agency.
Several measures can be taken when a parent falls behind in court ordered support payments, including garnishing his or her pay, blocking the issuance of a passport, intercepting unemployment compensation, offsetting federal and/or state income tax refunds, and, in extreme cases, sending the deadbeat to jail.
Sometimes the delinquent parent simply does not have the money to pay the child support payments. In some cases, payments must be modified to reflect the individual’s most current earnings. In other cases, the payor owes so much that the money will simply never be paid in full.
Custodial parents who are owed back child support payments should contact the appropriate Child Support Enforcement Office (CSEO) to report the failure of the other parent to pay. The CSEO needs detailed explanations about missed payments, and information about the whereabouts of the other parent.
The custodial parent cannot withhold visitation as punishment for the failure of the visiting parent to pay child support. Child support is completely separate from visitation. In the eyes of the law, the delinquent parent still has the right to visit with the child. Therefore, any parent who has not received child support payments should try legal methods instead of withholding visitations. Refusing to allow a child to visit with a co-parent because of unpaid child support could jeopardize a party’s standing with the courts.
Falling behind from time to time does not necessarily mean a parent is a deadbeat, nor do parents who are delinquent not care about their children. Some parents fall on hard times or suffer a physical disability. Delinquent parents may care deeply about their children and continue to be a part of their lives. Many parents who owe years and years of back child support payments are themselves destitute. They may not have a job or even a place to live. Many of these individuals rely on family members for assistance and need to get their lives back on track before they can even consider making regular child support payments. However, depending on where they live, the state may continue to charge interest on the unpaid payments, making it even more difficult for them to bring their payments up to date.