Have you found yourself in a pickle with a warrant out for your arrest due to failure to pay child support? The best way to address the problem of outstanding child support is to simply pay the warrant off. If that’s not an option, there are other ways.
To get a child support warrant lifted, you must turn yourself in or be picked up. Know that warrants are usually only issued for child support after you fail to attend a hearing on the subject. Read on to clarification regarding the child support process to learn how you got here. We will also address the options for clearing up your child support warrant.
How Is a Child Support Order Put in Place?
Child support orders are entered at the state court level in every state. The exact process and methods vary from state-to-state. However, some basic principles do hold true across the country.
There are two main ways a court order for child support is enacted. One is through a custody or divorce case. The other is through the state’s child support agency.
Support Orders through a Divorce or Custody Case
Either parent can file a petition with the court for a dissolution of marriage or for a custody determination. Custody cases are for non-married parents.
As part of either case, the court will enter orders regarding the parenting time, decision-making, and financial support of the child.
Child Support Agencies
Each state has a child support agency. That agency is responsible for the policy and administrative issues surrounding child support.
The state agencies also have local, county-based subdivisions that are responsible for individual cases. These agencies can initiate a child support proceeding.
These child support orders can be distinguished from the private orders above by the IV designation (IV-D, IV-E, and IV-A). This refers to Title IV of the Social Security Act of 1975.
These cases are initiated when a parent is receiving public assistance, when the child is placed outside of the home, and when a parent requests the services of the Office of Child Support Enforcement (CSE).
CSE assists in establishing paternity, finding a parent, establishing a child support order, and enforcing child support orders.
CSE can enforce a child support order regardless of whether they initiated the case. Parents owed child support can open a case with CSE for enforcement assistance.
How is Child Support Calculated
Child support is calculated according to the statutory guidelines of each state. This means the manner of calculation is set in law.
Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures to easily find the guidelines for your state.
There are three child support models states choose from when codifying their support calculation method.
- Income Share Model – This calculation is the most common one used by 41 states. The concept behind this model is that the child should be entitled to the same amount of support as if the parents were still in one household. It does not take into account the greater expenses parents each have as a result of living in two separate homes.
- Percentage of Income Model – This one uses only the non-custodial parent’s income to calculate child support. Six states use this model.
- Melson Model – Only three states use the Melson Model. It is more complex than the other two. It uses the income shares model as the base, but it implements several public policy decisions to ensure each parent’s needs are met.
What Happens when You Miss Child Support Payments
Remember that child support is considered the property of a child. When payments are missed, the receiving parent can pursue full payment.
When Child Support Enforcement is Not Involved
If the parent receiving child support does not have a case with CSE, they have limited options. They can file paperwork with the court to notify the judge of the lack of payment. They will also request specific action.
Parents can request permission to establish an income assignment. If granted, the other parent will send court-authorized paperwork to your employer or bank. In this scenario, the payments will be automatically deducted from your wages or bank account in the future.
Parents can also request an entry of judgment for the amount not paid. This gives the ability to also collect on the back amount rather than just future payments.
Finally, they can also request the court enter any sanctions under the court’s jurisdiction. This varies from state to state, but may include jail time. The court may hold a hearing regarding the matter of child support.
Child Support Enforcement of Support Orders
As a state agency, the office of Child Support Enforcement has many more options available for enforcement. A parent can open a case with them to get help enforcing a support order.
CSE does have the ability to suspend your driver’s license, but that is not all. They can also suspend your professional license, intercept your tax return, intercept any gambling winnings, and more.
The court may hold a hearing regarding the child support delinquency.
From Where do the Arrest Warrants Come?
When a parent fails to pay the court-ordered child support, this is a violation of a court order. Either the other parent or the child support agency can file a motion with the court asking it to hold the non-paying parent in contempt of court.
Contempt of court is the term that describes a court finding that someone did not follow a court order. To find this, the court would determine that someone had reasonable notice of a court order that pertained to them. Another component is that they had the ability to comply but did not.
The court has many sanction options if they find a non-paying parent in contempt of court. This can include the entry of judgment, order a lien be placed on your asses, and more rarely, jail time. Generally, removing a parent’s ability to earn money by putting them in jail does not further the goal of getting child support paid.
However, judges certainly can and do implement jail time for parents who are intentionally not paying child support when they have the means.
Failure to Appear
Arrest warrants most commonly appear as a result of a non-paying parent’s failure to appear at a hearing. If either child support enforcement or the other parent initiates contempt proceedings, you will receive a legal summons.
This summons is your direction to appear before the court on a certain day and time. This summons notifies you that the criminal charge of contempt of course is against you.If you do not follow that summons and fail to appear at the hearing, the judge may issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
How to Resolve a Bench Warrant
When there is a bench warrant issued for you, the resolution is to turn yourself in to law enforcement. Otherwise, you may be arrested at work, home, during a routine traffic stop, or your next court hearing.
Turning yourself in gives you the advantage of choosing the time. Don’t underestimate the value of that.You can have childcare arranged for your children. Avoid putting them through the trauma of seeing a parent arrested for an issue related to them.
By turning yourself in, you can plan transportation to avoid having your car impounded. It also gives you time to research bonding companies if you need to post bond or get together funds for bail.
Contact the law enforcement body relevant to your warrant (often the county sheriff department). They may set a specific time for you to turn yourself in to make the process more smooth.
This is especially helpful if you need to post bond or bail. By timing your surrender well, you may be able to avoid spending the night in jail.
This, of course, is very location-dependent and specific to the terms of your warrant. When trying to decide what to do, keep in mind that some states use the word ‘warrant’ to mean payment as well. Such states, like Texas, have options to ‘cancel a warrant.‘
This is used to stop payment on a check that has been lost or damaged.Be sure to check your state’s online resources regarding child support. Many states, like New Jersey, have great sites for information and forms you can use in your case.
What to Do if You Cannot Afford Your Child Support Payments
If your financial circumstances have changed since the order was entered, you can request a modification. To do this, either file paperwork with the court or reach out to child support enforcement.
If CSE is involved in your case, you may be able to work with them to start the modification process. When modifying a child support order, keep in mind that the court will still apply the state guidelines. Trying to modify a support order where there are no significant changes will result in a similar, if not identical, order.
Here are some factors that may impact the support order amount:
- Significant increase or decrease of income for either parent (depending on state)
- Change in the quantity of parenting time each parent has
- Significant change in the cost of health insurance or child care cost (depending on state)
What about Past Payments?
If you cannot afford to pay the arrears amount due, your best course of action will be to consult an attorney. They may be able to help you negotiate a payment plan that is more within your means.
Key Points if You Have a Child Support Arrest Warrant
Remember that if the court issues an arrest warrant related to your child support non-payment, ignoring the issue only makes it worse. Proactive steps can minimize the inconvenience, to put it mildly, of being arrested. Ideally, avoid putting yourself in this situation by attending all court appearances and never ignoring paperwork from the court.