What Happens if You Don’t Pay Child Support?

What happens if you don’t pay child support? Child support, mandated by court order and typically disbursed in monthly installments, is an important aspect of separated families. Are parents automatically entitled to receive child support? What might happen to the parent who doesn’t pay? What can you do about unpaid child support? 

Remington & Dixon, PLLC explains what happens if child support is not paid.

Establishing Child Support

In order to collect child support, a legal order must be obtained from a family court that specifies the amount of support to be paid for the benefit of a child. In the case of a divorce, whether or not child support will be ordered and the amount of child support is usually established at the time that custody is decided. The parent with physical custody of the child will be the one taking care of the child day to day and therefore is the one who will be collecting child support from the other parent.

In the case where the father is unknown or a parent cannot be located, establishing child support depends largely on locating the noncustodial parent and proving paternity, usually through blood or tissue samples provided to be used for testing.

Because of this process, parents are not automatically entitled to child support and must go through all legal proceedings before pursuing action for unpaid child support.

What are the Consequences of Unpaid Child Support?

If you don’t pay child support, the recipient may take action to enforce the order and collect payment. They may ask the court to find the payer in contempt of court and they may collect payment through garnishments and tax interception. A delinquent payer may be subject to fees, penalties, and potentially even jail time.

What To Do if Child Support Isn’t Paid

If the other parent doesn’t pay their child support, you can take steps to enforce it. As the support recipient, you can:

  • Petition the court for enforcement, including jail time
  • Garnish wages and benefits
  • Intercept taxes, bank accounts, and other assets

Remington & Dixon, PLLC, can help you through this process, working towards the financial support your child deserves.

Can you go to jail for not paying child support in North Carolina?

Yes. If you don’t pay child support in North Carolina, you may go to jail. You may be found guilty of failing to support your children, which may carry up to 120 days in jail. In addition, you may face punishment for contempt of court in NC family court.

How far behind in child support can you be?

In North Carolina, there is no exact amount to how far behind someone gets in child support before they go to jail. The court looks at all the circumstances, but it’s possible that they could put someone in jail for owing a small amount. The court will examine payments made, efforts to pay, and whether jail is likely to prompt compliance with the child support order.

What Happens When You Don’t Pay Child Support?

When you don’t pay child support, things that may happen include:

  • Criminal charges for failing to provide support (N.C.G.S. § 14‑322, Abandonment and failure to support spouse and children.)
  • Civil or criminal contempt proceedings
  • Jail time
  • Fees and penalties
  • Wage garnishment, where your employer takes the funds directly from your pay and submits them on your behalf
  • Payment garnishments, including disability/Social Security benefits, unemployment payments, workers’ compensation, insurance settlements, and veteran’s benefits
  • Garnishment of bank accounts and other assets
  • Liens on real property
  • Reporting to the credit bureaus which can lower your credit score and prevent you from accessing credit
  • Passport revocation or failing to renew a passport (for missed payments of $2,500 or more)
  • Driver’s license revocation (if 90 days or more behind in payments)
  • Suspension of an occupational or professional license
  • Parental termination proceedings on the basis of abandonment

If a parent doesn’t pay child support, they may have to appear in court to explain their failure to pay. The court has many options to enforce payments. Some of these actions intend to collect outstanding support directly, like garnishing wages or accessing bank accounts. In other instances — to motivate the payer to fulfill their obligation and prioritize payments, like suspension of a driver’s license or professional license.

How do you enforce child support in North Carolina?

The best way to enforce child support in North Carolina depends on the specific circumstances.

The situation of the payer, and where their assets and income may be found, is a large factor in how to proceed. In addition, enforcement actions that have been tried in the past, professional licenses held, and the likelihood of contempt proceedings prompting payment are things to consider. There is a 3-year statute of limitations to enforce child support. In addition, there is a 10-year time limit for enforcing a judgment of child support arrears. If a party lives in another state, the longer statute of limitations will apply.

North Carolina Agencies and Legal Services

Individuals seeking child support can opt to file an action themselves, retain legal counsel, or seek aid at their local CSE agency.

Working with the Child Support Enforcement Agency

  • Upon contacting the CSE agency, a nominal fee of $25 is typically required to start the application process. There is no fee for CSS assistance for people receiving public assistance.
  • The agency may initiate communication with the other party, urging them to provide necessary documentation for calculating child support payments.

Pros and Cons of CSE Assistance

  • Utilizing the CSE agency can lead to resolutions through voluntary agreements.
  • However, cooperation from the other party is essential, non-compliance can result in significant delays in the enforcement process.

Private Legal Representation: When to Consider Hiring Counsel

  • If negotiations stall or the other party is uncooperative, seeking private legal counsel may be imperative.
  • Legal professionals can navigate the complexities of the North Carolina court system.

Contact a Child Support Attorney in North Carolina Today

Remington & Dixon, PLLC represents parents in child support enforcement matters, offering legal support and guidance tailored to your case. Whether you require assistance in collecting overdue child support, modifying existing agreements, or responding to enforcement proceedings, our attorneys are here to advocate for you. To talk to a child support attorney, contact us now to schedule a consultation and explore your legal options.


Are consultations free?

While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

Where can I get legal advice?

We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

Can I hire you if I’m in another state?

This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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