Law Office of Virginia Geiss
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Brooklyn, NY Divorce and Family Law

Parents who can't pay support can seek a modification

You're a good parent. You take as much time with your kids as possible, pay for their extra-curricular activities and maybe even help coach a little league team or two. They don't go without clothes or food or, more importantly, love and support.

Then you are laid off work. Without a job, all the love and support in the world can't quite help you make those child support payments to your ex - and then you are unfairly labeled as a "deadbeat dad."

Many men (and women) face difficulties paying child support, but what happens if they aren't deadbeat at all? What happens to good parents who run into a bit of bad luck in their career or deal with other struggles in life?

Understand the consequences of failing to seek a modification

You might have an extremely valid reason for not pay all or part of a child support order, but letting the problem sit on the back burner can lead to some serious consequences.

In New York, courts are approving extended jail time for individuals refusing to pay child support. For repeat violations, individuals refusing to pay child support can face consecutive six-month sentences in an effort to cut down the staggering amount of unpaid child support.

This particular initiative is intended for those individuals who can pay their court-ordered child support but refuse to do so. For example, after two similar violations in 2010 and 2012, one dad found himself in court again in 2013 for refusing to pay the mother of his two children $166 biweekly for a total of more than $23,000 in back child support.

In court, the dad mentioned never argued that he could not make his payments, evidence only showed that he did not. According to courts, he never asked for an adjustment to the amount or indicated hardship or inability to pay. It begs the question, was it a refusal to pay or a failure to get help when needed?

Yes, there are situations in which some parents simply choose not to pay. In many other situations, a parent, mom or dad, struggles to make full payments on time. Yes, these parents can get wrapped up in legal entanglements and accused of intentional refusal, because the system isn't always fair, particularly those without adequate representation.

Not all cases end in jail time, but it doesn't mean you settle for a bad situation

There may be very good reasons you cannot make your payments. It may be a temporary situation that has left you in unpleasant or even dire financial circumstances or it could be a permanent life event. An injury, job loss, unexpected expenses like auto repairs on a vehicle you need to get to work, can seriously impact your ability to make child support payments.

In the event you are facing these conditions and need a reprieve, it is important to know that you have options other than jail time. We don't want to scare you either: failure to pay does not always get to the point of criminal sanctions. Even if that isn't the case, facing civil consequences or trying to pay more than you can afford isn't a good plan either.

Before falling into arrears, find a knowledgeable attorney who can guide you through the process. There may be options to help you get through this challenging time until you can start making payments again.

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