How Failure to Pay Child Support Impacts Custody

Child support orders are meant to ensure that the children’s needs continue to be met even when their parents no longer reside in the same household. Parents are meant to share in the responsibility of financially supporting their children, just as a custody order will make sure that the parents share in the other parenting responsibilities. A common question we receive is what happens when the parent who is supposed to be paying support stops paying, or is far in arrears. Frustrated custodial parents frequently ask what impact that has on the paying parent’s ability to see the child during visitation.

In a nutshell, the answer is “none.”  Each parent’s responsibilities under the visitation and support orders operate independently. That is to say, if a paying parent stops paying support, that does not change that custodial parent’s responsibility to make the child available during the court-ordered visitation times. The court may use its enforcement powers on either or both parents if they fail to live up to the terms of a court order. Moreover, courts typically take a harsh view of a parent refusing visitation to the other parent, especially over a financial dispute. A custodial parent who is seeking to enforce a child support order should turn to the court for assistance and not make the unilateral decision to cut off contact between a parent and a child simply because child support is not up to date.

In some rare circumstances, the failure of a parent to pay support could become relevant in certain types of custody disputes. If the paying parent is not paying support due to extreme poverty, this could be a factor if this poverty is also reflected in his or her living situation. If a parent is unable to provide support and also unable to provide the basic necessities for a child during residential time, a court could take that into account when crafting or modifying a residential schedule. However, note that it is not the failure to pay support that is relevant in such an inquiry. Rather, it is the parent’s overall financial situation.

Child support can be a sensitive topic. We have experience in helping our clients understand their rights and responsibilities under their parenting plans  and child support orders. Call us today at (253) 272-9459 to discuss your case and your children.

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