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Unpaid Child Support: What Could Happen?

The child support system can seem intimidating and difficult to understand from the perspective of both parents. Several measures that can be used in the event that child support goes unpaid are laid out by Tennessee law.

The first and most visible consequence of unpaid child support is a civil contempt of court charge. When this happens, the court places the person who owes child support in jail. They can be jailed for up to six months for failure to pay. Now, although it is possible for this to happen, judges are hesitant to throw people in jail for unpaid child support. That’s due to some controversy regarding courts running “debtor’s prisons”.

Other ways have emerged of ensuring that child support obligations are paid.

A court can force an obligor’s employer to garnish their wages. “Garnishment” means the court orders an employer to withhold part of a paycheck from the obligor. Instead, that money will go directly to the court. This takes control of the payment out of the hands of the obligor and puts it in the court’s hands instead.

A wage assignment works similarly to garnishment. If an obligor has a past-due amount on their child support, the court can withhold wages for the payment of that amount as well. Up to half of the obligor’s income can be withheld in this manner, plus additional money to be used to pay medical bills. Even if a parent isn’t working and is receiving unemployment benefits, those benefits can also be withheld.

The court can also force payment in other, less direct ways.

This includes seizing or otherwise encumbering personal property. One way this is done is through liens. The state takes a possessory interest in the property the lien is placed on. The lien remains until the parent has paid their child support obligation. Liens interfere with someone’s ability to sell their house or property. The state can also seize bank accounts through levies to pay these obligations, or pursue an independent legal claim for state benefits that the obligor has received since the entry of the child support order. If the obligor receives a federal income tax refund, Tennessee can seize that, too.

The state may enforce child support by otherwise making the life of the obligor generally more difficult until they pay.

This includes revocation and denial of licenses. Note that this isn’t just driver’s licenses, but hunting, fishing, contracting, business, or other types of licenses. Additionally, the state can report obligors to credit bureaus and deny passport applications. If an obligor forces the person owed child support to take them to court to collect it, that person can petition to have the obligor pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees. Finally, and perhaps most seriously, failure to pay child support can be considered grounds to terminate parental rights.

The consequences for not paying child support can be drastic.

Whether you owe child support and have fallen behind, or you’re owed child support and haven’t been paid, you deserve someone to advise you on how best to proceed. Held Law Firm attorneys are seasoned veterans of the child support system. We can help you make the right decisions. Call (865) 685-4780 to schedule a case assessment.

The information in this blog is accurate as of the time of publication, but laws often change. That’s why it’s important to hire an attorney who keeps up with these changes. Contact us today.