UPDATED: July 27, 2021

As a responsible parent, you want to provide for your child the best way you can, even after your marriage has ended. Child support, however, can be challenging to maintain if you’re struggling financially.

 Maybe you recently lost your job due to the effects of the pandemic. Maybe you had sudden financial expenses, like medical bills. You’re behind on your child support payments, and the debt is accumulating. How can you get out of it?

 Let’s figure this out in this article.

What To Do When You Can’t Pay Child Support?

The law is strict when it comes to enforcing child support payments, and parents with delinquent payments are often shamed. When you can’t pay child support, you become “in arrears.”

 But what if you don’t have the means because of recent changes in your financial capabilities? Can your child support debt be forgiven?

 In most cases, child support debt cannot be forgiven completely, even when you have financial difficulty. Even so, there are things you can do to manage your situation and potentially reduce the amounts you have to pay.

1. Inform the court of your situation

When you suddenly experience a loss of financial means to sustain child support, you must inform the court of your situation. Don’t wait until you’re already deep in arrears. The court may be able to make an arrangement that will allow you to reduce your payment so that your child can still receive money.

2. Request a manageable payment schedule

When it’s not possible to reduce the amount you have to pay, requesting a manageable payment schedule can help you keep up with the payment. Understand how much you’re behind using this child support arrears calculator.

3. File a motion to dismiss child support arrears

You can also file a motion to the court asking for a payment plan for the arrears. If you make the full payments on the plan, the court may grant your request to forgive the rest of the arrears. That, however, will require the other parent or guardian’s approval.

4. Obtain a private loan

This should be the last option, but getting a private loan can help you pay the arrears and catch up with your child support schedule. Remember, though, that you also have to pay the loan with interest moving forward.

5. Enter into a settlement with the guardian

When paying monthly child support is taking a toll on you, you can reach an agreement with the guardian. You can agree on a lump sum and settle the child support responsibility at once. You can start by computing how much you are responsible to provide using this child support calculator by state.

6. Apply for unemployment benefits

As soon as you lose your job, apply for unemployment benefits in your state. The state will deduct up to 50 percent of your unemployment benefits and funnel it to child support.

7. Look for debt relief programs

Check if there are any existing debt relief programs or grants to help pay back child support in your state. Some programs allow you to pay your debt partially and overwrite the rest of it.

 If you’re in California, you may qualify for the Compromise of Arrears Program (COAP). This program helps reduce the child support arrears you owe to the government, as long as you meet the requirements. These include the following:

  • The child support arrears you owe the government are more than $501
  • You continue to pay child support
  • You report your income and assets accurately
  • You can pay in a lump sum the child support debt you owe the custodial parent

 In Illinois, your child support debt can be permanently removed through the Clean Slate Program. If you qualify and you paid the regular ordered child support payments for six months, the state of Illinois will remove the child support debt you owe to the government. However, you must still pay any past due to child support you owe to the custodial parent.

 To qualify, you must submit an application form and provide proof of your incapacity to pay child support during the assistance period due to unemployment, incarceration, or serious illness.

When a Child Support can be Modified or Terminated

If you have an amicable relationship with the custodial parent, you may be able to reach an agreement to modify or terminate the child support with the court’s approval. It’s possible when your income has changed, you’re physically incapacitated, or the custody is transferred to you. When the changes are temporary, the court may decide a modification by reducing the amount you have to pay.

The Consequences Of Not Paying Child Support Or Arrears

Losing a job or experiencing a financial difficulty doesn’t mean you can be free from paying child support. It remains your responsibility no matter what happens. Whether you deliberately skip child support payments or not, there are negative consequences of not paying them.

1. Benefits Deductions

The state can deduct child support payments from your benefits, such as unemployment benefits mentioned above, and social security. They can be used to pay the debt and the monthly child support.

2. Jail Time

If you keep on missing your child support payment, you may be found in “contempt of court” and serve jail time. This is imposed as the last resort, though, because the priority is to be able to provide support to your child. If you’re in jail, all the more that you can’t pay anything toward your child’s welfare.

 You may be sentenced to serve six months to two years of jail time.

3. Felony Charges

Felony charges are also a possibility, especially for repeat offenders. Normally, delinquency in payment may result in a misdemeanor charge, but if you continue not paying and you’ve accumulated too much arrears, you’ll have a felony record and spend time in jail.

4. Public Shame

In some cases, parents who do not pay their child support obligations are shamed as deadbeat parents. Their names, photos, and the delinquent amounts are posted online. This happens in Riverside County in California and Suwannee County in Florida, for example.

5. Wage and Property Garnishment

When you’re in child support arrears, the state can garnish any disposable income you have, particularly your wage. The court can determine an amount to garnish or up to 65 percent of your disposable income.

 Your tax return may also be garnished. Child support arrears can also result in liens placed on your properties, such as a house, car, stocks, bonds, and jewelry.

6. License Suspension

Your driver’s license may be suspended until you pay your child support arrears. This policy is enforced in all 50 states. Some have extended it to professional and occupational licenses.

7. Negative Impact on Credit Scores

A child support enforcing agency can send information to the credit bureaus about your arrears. Child support debt that appears on your credit report will have a serious negative impact on your credit score. You can only work on removing it from your record when you’ve paid the debt completely.

Tips for Handling Child Support Obligations

1. Know Your Rights

It helps to understand your rights as a father paying child support. It means you can still take part in your child’s life aside from paying child support.

 As a father, you have the rights to custody or visitation. You can list your child as a dependent on taxes, carry them on health insurance, and make legal decisions affecting them.

2. Hire a Good Lawyer

It’s always best to work with a good lawyer when dealing with child support matters. They will protect both your and your child’s financial interests. If you run into problems, such as arrears or disagreements with your ex-partner, a lawyer will guide you on the right steps to take.

3. Keep the Custodial Parent Informed

Be transparent about your financial situation with the other parent, whether you’re having difficulty or you got a bonus or pay increase. Withholding financial information from each other can result in serious problems when they’re revealed in court.

4. Keep Your Child Out of the Issue

Seeing their parents get divorced can have a serious impact on them emotionally. The last thing they need is to see you having more problems after the divorce. So, never argue in front of them about child support. It’s best to keep the child support matter between parents.

5. Do Your Best to Keep Child Support Payments on Time

As much as possible, make your child support payments on time. It’s the first step toward avoiding getting into arrears. If needed, you can take a side hustle or look for a better-paying job. Once you allow yourself to fall behind payments, it can easily spiral downwards and make it hard for you to catch up.

 If you’re struggling, seek help from the court. If you’ve been making on-time payments until then, the court is likely to be more lenient.


The end of a marriage doesn’t mean the end of your responsibilities and rights as a parent to your child. Child support is just one legal obligation you must fulfill, and you should do your best to do it. Understandably, you may experience sudden financial difficulties that can hinder your ability to sustain child support. When that happens, keep in mind our tips above and do the right things to keep yourself from further legal troubles.

 Are you struggling to pay child support or have sought assistance to handle your arrears? Share your experience below!