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What happens if you don’t pay child support? And, is it illegal to not pay your child support? If you’re struggling to pay your child support, you may be asking these questions. 

The Laws Vary from State to State 

You may be asking yourself, “what happens if I don’t pay child support?” Well, it’s going to depend on where you live. Most states have guidelines about how much child support should be ordered based upon the circumstances such as amount of custody each parent has, and how much each parent makes. Judges generally stay within the state’s guidelines, but if your circumstances warrant a deviation from the guidelines, the judge may order an amount they feel is more appropriate with the given circumstances. They may lower or raise the child support given that information. The consequences for not paying child support can vary from state to state, and it may also depend on how far behind the support obligation is, and whether or not the parent required to pay child support has made good-faith effort in trying to remain current on their child support obligation. 

Is There a Court Order? 

If there isn’t a court order mandating that your child’s other parent pays support, you will not be able to compel your ex to pay child support. If your ex isn’t paying child support, and there isn’t a court order, you will need to get a court order for child support before your ex will be obligated to pay it. 


The consequences of not paying child support will depend upon the facts specific to your case, particularly your location. You could be fined for not paying child support, you could have certain state-issued licenses and permits suspended—such as a driver’s, hunting, and fishing licenses, you could be ordered to pay your ex’s attorney’s fees for having to go to court over this issue, and more. There are two different types of consequences, civil and criminal. Your child’s other parent could seek civil penalties for non-payment of child support which could include sanctions such as payment of attorney’s fees, civil judgments, contempt of court (which could result in fines and jail time to compel compliance with a court order), a garnishment order, or some other relief available. Those who are criminally charged for failure to pay child support may have criminal penalties such as jail time, fines, or other punishments that the court finds appropriate under the circumstances if the parent is found guilty of a criminal offense. It’s important for people to remember that having an ex that’s behind on child support does not give you a free pass to deny your ex their parent time. Denying your ex parent time that they’re entitled to exercise can cause a lot of problems. If your ex is behind on child support, you should not deny them the parent time that the court has allowed them in an effort to coerce them into paying their child support obligation. 

Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support? 

Yes, in some states, you can go to jail for child support. While it isn’t common, it is possible to be prosecuted for criminal nonsupport. Criminal nonsupport generally has an arrears requirement before it’s prosecuted. Generally, with cases of criminal nonsupport, the payer does have the ability to pay and has not made any attempts to pay child support. In most cases, it is unlikely that a person would be immediately put in jail for failure to pay the child support that the court ordered them to pay, especially if the court has never addressed issues with payment. However, it is possible that such consequences could occur. If you are behind on child support, the worst thing you can do is nothing. If you’re summoned to court on matters pertaining to child support, do not skip your court appearance. 

Can You Get Out of Paying Child Support? 

The only surefire way to get out of paying child support is to not have children. While there are factors that may make it less likely that a person will have to pay child support, there is no reliable way to completely avoid paying child support. Your likelihood of paying child support will depend on what state you’re in. While some states calculate child support based on income, other states may include other factors when determining whether or not a person will be ordered to pay child support. In some cases, where the parents were not married, and no custody or child support orders were ever made, the party with custody may turn a blind eye to a lack of support for fear of having to go to court and give the other party parent-time. However, this is unusual since most parents want to be involved in their children’s lives and already have custody arrangements in place. Usually, the courts will not allow a parent to completely waive child support since the support belongs to the child, not the parents. 

When You Need Family Law Help

If you’ve been struggling to meet your child support obligation, CoilLaw is here for you. Contact us today to set up an initial consultation. 


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