Penalties for Failing to Pay Child Support in California

Parents in California, including those who do not have physical custody of their children, have a duty to provide support for their children. However, determining how much child support you should provide becomes more complicated when parents are unmarried, separated, or divorced.

In the event of divorce or separation, child support is paid by one parent to the parent with primary physical custody of the child. The purpose of these payments is to cover:

  • The child’s basic needs (food, housing, clothing, etc.);
  • Medical expenses;
  • Education expenses; and
  • Other reasonable expenses, including activities and entertainment.

You can use the California Child Support Services calculator to estimate what you might owe in child support.

When there is a child support order, those payments must be made according to the agreed-upon schedule, on the specified dates in the specified amount. What penalties can the payor parent expect for failing to pay child support in California?

A Warrant for Arrest

If the parent who was ordered to pay child support misses one or more payments, he/she may face a warrant for arrest. Child support-related warrants are broken down into two types:

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  1. Civil warrants (“capias”). Failure to meet your child support obligation – or failure to obey any other court order, for that matter – is considered “contempt of court” in California. A civil warrant is usually issued when the custodial parent has filed for contempt of court. A capias warrant can result in fines, less than 12 months in jail, or both.
  2. Criminal warrants. When federal or state prosecutors become involved in a child support case over the payor parent’s failure to make payments, a criminal warrant may be issued. Typically, a criminal warrant is issued when the payor parent owes a significant amount of unpaid support. A criminal warrant can lead to fines, at least a year of jail time, or both.

In March 2019, American singer R. Kelly was taken into custody for failing to pay over $160,000 in child support. However, the embattled R&B singer was able to avoid jail time by paying $62,000 in back child support.

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Legal Consequences (Penalties) for Failing to Pay Child Support

In addition to a civil or criminal warrant as a result of not paying child support, other possible penalties in California may include:

  • Garnishment of wages. If you owe child support, unpaid support payments can be automatically withheld from your paycheck.
  • Paycheck deductions for health insurance. If the payor parent was ordered to purchase health insurance for the children, the cost of insurance might be deducted from that parent’s paycheck.
  • Denial of a tax refund. When a non-custodial parent is behind on child support payments, his/her tax returns will be used to pay that debt.
  • Property lien. A property lien can be put on any property, including bank accounts and homes, owned by the non-custodial parent who owes child support.
  • Loss of license. The California DMV may even suspend your driver’s license if you owe child support. However, your driving privileges will be reinstated once a payment plan is established.
  • Revocation of passport. Your passport can be revoked if you are behind on child support payments. This may also affect your immigration status in the U.S.

What do you think? Are the penalties for failing to pay child support too harsh or not harsh enough?

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