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When A Parent Defaults in Custody and Support Obligations

Parenting children of divorce can be tricky, especially when one of the parent defaults on custody arrangements or financial obligations. These are moments when divorce changes problems rather than solving them. It can be an emotionally difficult time, but it is important to have your head rule your decision-making and get qualified legal advice. Listen to your heart, yes – but make sound, rational decisions that may involve family court action to best protect your child or children.

Resolving Custody Issues

Nothing is more emotionally challenging and complex than resolving child custody schedules and responsibilities. Keep yourself in a problem-solving mode and remember the goal is to determine which solutions are in the child’s best interests. This moment is not for re-litigating divorce proceedings, but for enforcing the existing agreement. Keep a legal copy of the child’s custody arrangements to provide law enforcement if a domestic dispute warrants a resolution. 

Suppose your divorce, custody paperwork, calls for arbitration, or the court requires an attempt at mediation before a trial. In that case, the court (or sometimes a parent) will submit a motion to an agreed-upon arbitrator as a neutral third party to evaluate the facts and make decisions regarding enforcement or changes to the existing custody arrangement. Depending on your child’s age, they may voice their preferences. If too young, an appointed guardian ad litem may ascertain and speak to the child’s feelings and desires. If a parent is unhappy with the arbitration ruling, they may ask the court to “vacate” or modify the arbitrator’s decision.

If the custody arrangement needs enforcement via family court, you may file motions for temporary orders while the custody case is ongoing. Either parent may file motions to best serve the child’s needs or schedule before final judgment orders. Depending on the nature or severity of the violation, the court may modify the existing custody arrangement, fine the parent, or choose another penalty. It is essential to comply fully with the terms of the child’s custody order and document every instance that a co-parent does not respect custody orders. While it is frustrating to try to co-parent with one unwilling to follow court decisions, keep your cool and work through the legal process, shielding your child as much as possible from the conflict.

Collecting Child Support

Child support payments are crucial to maintaining a child’s standard of living, and financial situations can become heated between parents. Resolving support issues does not need to involve your child. There are many ways to collect outstanding child support. Try the obvious and appeal to the parent for payment. If the parent continues to promise payment but does not deliver, court actions may become necessary. As a parent, you have the right to a “judgment for child support” via a family court to issue a statement for ongoing child support and full payment of the past due debt.

A Financial Disclosure Form (FDF) may be necessary if a parent claims significant changes in their income levels. Both parents need to file this disclosure regarding employment, income, and expenses. Attach three of your most recent pay stubs to the FDF, filling these forms out accurately and completely, or it may prompt the court to rule against you.

Even without a judgment for past-due child support, collection options exist, like automatic wage withholding. Both federal and state governments have mechanisms to enforce child support orders – and they can use aggressive tactics to ensure a child receives the support they need for daily life. Methods of child support collection include, but are not limited to:

  • Government efforts
  • Property seizure and wage garnishment
  • Jail time for unpaid child support
  • Liens on a property for outstanding child support
  • IRS tax refund seizure for unpaid child support

If you must file a child support petition with the court asking to enforce the agreement and the debt is not paid before the hearing, the co-parent will be in contempt and ordered to pay the amount. If the co-parent fails to appear at the hearing, the court may order an issue for their arrest. 

Hiring an experienced Family Law Attorney

Whether for child custody or support, all of these arbitration and court actions have timelines and specific dates, claims, and counterclaims a family law attorney must navigate for the child’s best interests. Each state has variations in handling claims, petitions, and requests to enforce existing orders. Situations can get very complex, and emotions tend to run high. A specialized family law attorney in your state can alleviate these emotions with sound legal advice to help you focus on resolving the custody and support issues. Please contact us or schedule a consultation with our Houston office if you would like to discuss this matter further.

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