Unpaid child support puts a strain on all members of a family. Given too much time, late payment fees and other repercussions can escalate to the point where the payor can’t make the payments.
In New Jersey, child support payments are part of either a court order or consent agreement that both parents are legally obligated to follow. However, for any number of reasons, the parent making payments may fall behind.
Whether intentional or not, late payments harm the financial stability of the child, the parent receiving payments, and the parent who owes child support.
Fortunately, there are several tiered approaches to enforcing child support orders and collecting past-due child support in New Jersey.
How are child support orders enforced?
With the help of a child support lawyer, unpaid child support can be enforced by the New Jersey courts. Receiving these payments is your legal right, and the New Jersey legal system takes the violation of that right seriously.
If you aren’t receiving the agreed-upon child support payments in full or on time, the courts have several methods for working to get those payments made, including:
- Garnishment of wages, i.e. withholding of child support payments from a paycheck (Note: New Jersey courts prefer to use this method of ensuring payments from the start)
- Seizure of property or assets
- Interception of tax refunds
- Garnishment of unemployment
- Interception of lottery winnings
- Implementation of late fees (commonly known as arrears payments, which are added to the initial obligation)
- Credit reporting of delinquent child support
If these methods don’t lead to full, timely payments of current child support and the recuperation of past, unpaid child support, the courts have an additional tier of measures they can take, including:
- Suspension of a business license
- Suspension of a driver’s license and/or passport
- Issuing a warrant for arrest, which results in mandatory jail time
These escalating responses are designed to place increasing pressure on the parent who owes payments.
Sometimes, a real change in circumstances can affect a co-parent’s ability to pay. In this case, your co-parent may be entitled to an “ability to pay” hearing.
This is one of many reasons why it’s recommended to reach out to a family law attorney when a pattern of unpaid child support becomes apparent so that the issue can be addressed promptly—whether through a scheduled hearing or other collection measures.
What you can do about unpaid child support
If your co-parent has fallen behind on child support owed, you have several paths of action available to you.
If it’s a one-time incident, it may be worth reaching out to your co-parent to see what’s going on. However, if unpaid child support becomes a pattern, you should pursue legal remedies. Typically, this means working with an attorney to petition the courts for prompt enforcement of the child support owed.
Although the situation may be immensely frustrating and even scary, it’s important that you don’t withhold parenting time that was outlined within your child custody agreement from your co-parent. Receiving the agreed-upon child support payments is your legally enforceable right. Your child support lawyer and the courts will work with you to make sure you aren’t denied this right. However, payment of support and access to parenting time don’t go hand in hand, and neither one should be used as a bargaining chip.
Even if your co-parent has lost their job and successfully petitions for a temporary reduction in payments, they’re still going to be required to pay what they already owe. Failing to do so can lead to a host of repercussions for them, including being held in contempt of court.
Many parents count on child support payments and losing that support can jeopardize them financially. If your co-parent is making late payments or failing to make any payments at all, we strongly recommend speaking with an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer can help you navigate the court system to collect unpaid child support and ensure the resumption of regular payments.
Methods for collecting unpaid child support payments
New Jersey courts have several methods for collecting unpaid child support. The most popular is known as wage garnishment, which means money is withheld from the payor’s paycheck and deposited into the payee’s account.
However, the courts understand that not all people earn their primary income through paychecks or what’s reported on a W-2 Form. Therefore, there are additional methods for ensuring the receipt of payments. If needed, the courts may intercept other forms of income, such as lottery winnings, tax refunds, or unemployment. They may even seize assets or place a lien on property to prevent its sale or transfer.
The courts may also implement more direct consequences for lack of payment, such as suspending a business license until debts are paid, suspending a driver’s license or passport, or credit reporting what the parent owes as delinquent debt.
New Jersey has a very detailed method for calculating fair and reasonable child support payments, and your co-parent has a legal obligation to make these payments. The courts and your family law attorney will support you in ensuring you receive the agreed-upon financial support for your child.
Who to contact about unpaid child support in New Jersey
Unpaid child support puts a strain on all members of a family. Given too much time, late payment fees and other repercussions can escalate to the point where the payor can’t make the payments. In the meantime, the payee may be in an increasingly precarious position as counted-on support doesn’t arrive.
If you’re facing issues with unpaid child support, you should contact a child support attorney or the NJ courts for help as soon as possible.