What can happen to me if I am behind in my child support payments?
If you do not pay child support, the other parent or the West Virginia Bureau for Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) may file paperwork to bring you back to court. This is called a Petition for Contempt. After hearing the evidence, the Family Court may find you in contempt of court. Examples of what might happen in that case include the court ordering your employer to take part of your paycheck or unemployment benefits to pay for the child support; loss of your driver’s license; your tax refunds could be taken; or liens could be placed against your property, among other things. If you are behind in your child support and the Family Court finds you willfully failed to pay, you could go to jail. The type of action taken by the Family Court and the BCSE depends on the individual circumstances of your case.
I have to go to court because I am behind in my child support payments. What should I expect?
Make sure you go to the hearing. If you are unable to get a lawyer to go to court with you, you should still go to court on your own. You can try to show the Family Court that you were not able to pay the child support. You may want to do the following:
- Collect any proof of income that you have had since the last time you were in court. This evidence might include tax returns, paycheck stubs, or unemployment documentation.
- Make a list of all employers, their addresses, and the dates of your employment since the last time you were in court.
- If you are unemployed or have had periods of unemployment, make a list of every place you have looked for work since the last time you were in court, including names, addresses and dates that you applied for jobs.
- Make a list of all your essential living expenses that you have had since the last time you were in court. These might include your rent or other house payments, utilities, medical expenses, food expenses, and transportation expenses.
- If you have not been able to work because of a disability, bring a note from your doctor explaining what your disability is and that it prevents you from working.
The Family Court is going to want to know that you have been trying to pay support. Therefore, if you can afford to do so, you should try to pay at least some money toward your support, even if it is less than your ordered amount.
Can I be put in jail or prison if I do not pay child support?
Yes. If you are held in civil contempt by the Family Court for not paying child support you can be put in jail until you pay whatever amount the Judge orders. This payment is called “purging” of contempt.
You may also have to deal with criminal contempt or criminal prosecution for not paying child support. Criminal contempt and criminal prosecution are handled by the prosecuting attorney in Magistrate or Circuit Court. If convicted, you may be sentenced to jail or placed on probation.
I lost my job because I am sick. Do I still have to pay child support?
Yes, the order to pay child support remains in effect until you ask the Family Court to change the order.
If you can’t pay your child support because of illness or unemployment, you can ask the Family Court to change the amount of support. The Family Court can change the support order if it finds there has been a substantial change in circumstances. If there is at least a 15% change in the amount of child support (up or down), the Family Court will issue a new order changing the amount of support. If the Family Court does not change your support order, then your current order remains in effect. Click here for more information about how to change your child support.
If you have a serious illness that will last for at least a year, you could also apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you get SSD, you and your dependent children may get payments from the government. Sometimes the court will allow SSD payments to your dependent children to count toward your child support obligation. If you get SSI, then the court cannot make you pay child support.
What if I stopped paying support because my child came to live with me?
If your child comes to live with you, you should notify the Family Court and ask to change your child support order. If you don’t, you may still have to pay child support even though your child was living with you. Click here for more information about how to change your child support.
My child just turned 18. Can I stop paying child support?
Not if the child is still in high school. If the child is still a high school student, you will probably have to pay the support until the child has completed the school year during which the child turns 19. Usually you can stop paying child support for a child when your child turns 18 and is living on his/her own if you are current on your child support. However, if your child support order is for more than one child, you should not stop paying part of the order without the Family Court’s approval. You will need to go back to court and explain that one of your children has turned 18 and you would like your support order to be lowered. Click here for more information about how to change your child support.
I stopped paying support because the other parent won’t let me visit my kids. Can I still be held in contempt of court?
Yes. Child support and visitation are two separate things. You can’t stop paying support because you aren’t getting visitation. The other parent can’t stop visitation because you aren’t paying child support. You must continue paying your child support as the court has ordered. You will need to go back to the court to try to get the visitation going.
How can I get an accounting of child support payments and arrears?
The amount of child support that has not been paid on time is called an “arrearage” or “arrearages.” More often, it’s simply called “back child support.” In cases where the payments are being handled through the BCSE, you should meet with the BCSE worker and ask for an arrearage worksheet. The worker can explain this worksheet and answer any questions about what it says.
What if I dispute the BCSE records?
It is important to have as much information, such as proof of payments as possible. You should try to resolve the dispute by meeting with a BCSE worker or a supervisor. You may also have a right to appeal the action of the BCSE in a non-court hearing (called a “fair hearing”) before an administrative hearing officer.
It is important to understand that the BCSE must follow court orders, even if the child no longer lives with the parent or other changes have occurred. Only the Court can modify or terminate a child support obligation, not the BCSE.