Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

What can happen if a parent doesn't pay child support?

The court system is far from perfect, and in some cases it misses the mark on being fair and effective. Often, actual and perceived flaws in the system involve highly sensitive areas where courts, even when doing "good", foster a miscarriage of justice. Child support, for many, is one such area.

In Utah, child support services are carried out by the Office of Recovery Services. The agency helps with things such as locating parents and enforcing child support obligations. In addition to Recovery Services, parents not on public assistance can hire an attorney or a private collection agency to assist in child support collection efforts. While child support does certainly help the custodial parent with a child's financial needs, it sometimes creates a hardship for the paying parent. So, what happens when one refuses or is unable to pay?

Sometimes a parent who is ordered to pay child support doesn't do so. In today's economy this is often due to being unemployed or under-employed, but there are parents who are fully capable of paying yet refuse. When a parent fails to meet a child support obligation, there are several steps a court may take to encourage payment.

The method used to recover a child support obligation will usually depend on the amount of money owed and the reason for non-payment. In attempting to convince a parent to pay, courts will report the missed payments to credit bureaus, revoke driver and professional licenses, and even deny visas. If that proves unsuccessful, courts will garnish tax returns and paychecks, place liens on bank accounts and personal property, even seize lottery winnings. While usually reserved for serial offenders, courts routinely send people to jail on contempt charges for non-payment, setting a purge amount which the non-paying parent can pay to be released. This has to be based upon the parent's ability to pay such an amount.

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