Many people think of child support as something that happens only within divorce proceedings. However, that’s not the case. Under California law, parents of the same child don’t need to have been married or even living together for child support to become an issue. Most of the time, child support is determined during divorce or separation, but there are times when that doesn’t happen, and one parent may request retroactive child support later.

It’s also important to understand what happens if someone falls behind on their child support payments, which is known as being in arrears. Our experienced child support attorneys have the information needed to handle child support issues.

What Is Child Support Arrears?

When the courts order one parent to pay another child support, there’s a specific amount named and a specific timeline required to make those payments.

If the parent paying child support falls behind either by paying less than required or not making payments on time, they’ve fallen into arrears.

What Is Retroactive Child Support?

In California, one parent may request retroactive child support if the other parent hasn’t been paying it. However, this is different from being in arrears. When it comes to retroactive child support, the parent requesting payment may not have had a temporary child support order issued during the divorce or child custody proceedings, or the parent who is asked to pay may have disappeared, and the other parent just located them. The bottom line is that there was no formal order for payment amounts or timelines, and now the custodial parent wants to receive child support. In some states, this is known as being in child support arrears, but California separates being in arrears and retroactive child support.

In order to receive retroactive child support, the custodial parent must file a petition with the court, and the judge must rule on whether or not child support is applicable in this case. If the petition for retroactive support is successful, there’s a three-year time limit. That means the parent who is ordered to pay only needs to pay for the three previous years, not all the way back to the child’s birth if the child is older than three.

What Happens if Someone Falls into Child Support Arrears in California?

California courts take child support matters seriously, and falling behind on child support payments can have severe legal consequences.

Among the possible consequences, someone could:

  • Have their wages, Social Security payments, unemployment, disability or workers compensation, or tax refunds garnished by the government and redirected to the other parent.’
  • Have a lien put on their property.
  • Face misdemeanor charges which could lead to a fine or even jail time.
  • Have their driver’s license revoked.
  • Have the amount of child support payments increased.
  • Have a negative impact on their credit score.

The consequences aren’t limited to just one of these–depending on the severity of the arrears, they could face several, especially if the person owing the support is financially capable of making the payments but refuses to do so.

What if I’m No Longer Able to Make My Child Support Payments?

Things happen in people’s lives that can suddenly (and sometimes irrevocably) affect their ability to earn an income, whether being laid off from a job or having an injury or illness that affects their ability to earn a living. It’s understandable that someone facing those kinds of stressors might just want to ignore the child support owed. There are also situations where the child support court order isn’t correct or contains errors (in fact, a significant source of back child support orders involves errors in the court orders). But as discussed above, ignoring the court-ordered payments can lead to harsh consequences.

As soon as you realize that you are going to have difficulty making the child support payments, contact our team of experienced child support attorneys. There are legal steps we can take to help you, which include:

  • Asking the court to recalculate the amount of the payments. This is a good approach when something has happened to the paying parent’s ability to earn a living.
  • Asking the court to reduce the amount of arrears owed if the child lived with the paying parent for part or all of the time involving the child support owed.
  • Negotiating with the other parent to reduce the amount owed or to allow a lump-sum payment to satisfy the debt. However, even if the parents come to an agreement, it still must be approved by the court.
  • Requesting that the court reduces or removes the interest accrued on the arrears (usually 10% annually).
  • Requesting that the court set up a formal payment plan. This will not reduce the overall amount of the arrears, but it can help get someone back on track and out of arrears while avoiding the more severe consequences.
  • Obtaining a lower-interest loan that can be used to pay off the arrears. It will not reduce the amount owed but could provide breathing room to get caught up and out of arrears.

What Should I Do if I Have More Questions about Child Support and My Rights?

Call us at 909-487-2340 to request an initial consultation. Child support can be a complicated topic, and if it’s being negotiated as part of divorce along with child custody, it can be a contentious discussion. Our experienced, knowledgeable child support attorneys can walk you through what you need to know and guide you to the best possible outcomes.