Failure to Pay Child Support is a Federal Crime

Failure to Pay Child Support is a Federal Crime

Susan R.  Miller
 | 
Is your spouse failing to pay child support? If so, you are not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than half (45.9 percent) of custodial parents who were supposed to receive child support received full child support payments in 2017, the most recent statistics available. A custodial parent is the one with whom the child lives most of the time.
 
The report goes on to note that the aggregate amount of child support that was supposed to have been received in 2017 was $30.0 billion; 62.2 percent of that amount was received, averaging $3,431 per custodial parent for the year.
 
What happens, then, if your ex fails to pay? There are a number of significant consequences. Their wages can be garnished, which means payments can be deducted from their paycheck. If the deadbeat parent is due a tax refund, it can be used to cover child support payments. Non-financial penalties such as the revocation of a driver’s license or passport restrictions may be imposed. Or, the parent can be held in contempt of court and put behind bars, although in most cases judges prefer this to be a punishment of last resort.
 
“There are several protections under the law to provide the paying spouse an opportunity to comply before a court will put them in jail,” says Abigail Beebe, a West Palm Beach-based board-certified marital and family law attorney. “It is a mechanism a judge has, yet it is considered an extreme way to get someone to comply with their child support obligations. But it can happen.”
 
Matters related to child support generally are handled by state and local authorities, and not by the federal government. However, failing to pay court-ordered child support can be considered a federal crime under the following circumstances:
 
  • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Section 228 of Title 18, United States Code, makes it illegal for an individual to willfully fail to pay child support if he or she willfully fails to pay child support that has been ordered by a court for a child who lives in another state, or if the payment is past due for longer than 1 year or exceeds the amount of $5,000.  A violation of this law is a criminal misdemeanor, and convicted offender face fines and up to 6 months in prison (See 18 U.S.C. § 228(a)(1)).
  • If, under the same circumstances, the child support payment is overdue for more than 2 years, or the amount exceeds $10,000, the violation is a criminal felony, and convicted offenders face fines and up to 2 years in prison (See 18 U.S.C.§ 228(a)(3)).
  • Finally, this statute prohibits individuals obligated to pay child support from crossing state lines or fleeing the country with the intent to avoid paying child support that has either been past due for more than 1 year or exceeds $5,000. (See 18 U.S.C. § 228(a)(2)).  Any individual convicted of this crime may face up to 2 years in prison.
 
Such a situation recently happened to a Florida father. The 51-year-old man was sentenced in March 2021 to five years of probation for failing to pay child support. He was ordered to pay support for three children in 2007. The children were living in New Hampshire. He owed more than $100,000 at the time of his arrest. He eventually paid more than $107,000 after pleading guilty and being sentenced. He also was ordered to keep up his monthly support obligations.
 
Thirty-Three states and Washington, D.C. have their own guidelines that the courts use to determine how much child support should be paid, says Beebe. Child support guidelines are implemented in different ways. Seventeen states use court rules or decisions. 
 
How much a parent earns, whether they pay for health insurance or childcare, and whether they receive disability payments are just some of the factors used to determine how much child support is paid.
 
Judges are allowed to deviate either up or down from the recommended amount of child support, but that will depend on individual state laws.
 
The laws governing child support are complicated. It’s best to seek advice from a qualified family law attorney if you owe money and can’t pay, or your ex-spouse owes child support and isn’t living up to his or her agreement.
 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not Law Champs.
 
 
 

 
Susan R.  Miller

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