Using Child Custody to Avoid Paying Child Support

Child custody and child support are both crucial aspects of ensuring the well-being and financial stability of children. However, in some unfortunate situations, one parent may try to misuse child custody arrangements to evade their financial responsibilities.

In general, if a parent is successful in getting a change of custody, their child support obligation will decrease or may even be eliminated if they obtain custody of their children. 

This article aims to shed light on the topic of using child custody to avoid paying child support and explores the legal and ethical implications involved.

Misusing Child Custody to Avoid Child Support

Unfortunately, some parents may try to misuse child custody arrangements as a means to avoid their financial responsibilities. This can include attempting to gain sole custody of the child or manipulating the custody agreement to decrease their child support obligations. Such actions are not only unethical but can also have detrimental effects on the child’s well-being.

Common Custody Tactics Used by Parents to Avoid Paying Child Support

When it comes to child custody disputes and child support obligations, some parents may resort to certain tactics to evade their financial responsibilities.

While these tactics are not only unethical but also potentially illegal, it is essential to be aware of them. Here are some common custody tactics used by parents to avoid paying child support:

1. Seeking Sole Custody

One tactic is to seek sole custody of the child. By gaining sole custody, the parent may believe they can reduce or eliminate their child support obligations. However, custody decisions should always be based on the best interests of the child, not financial motives.

2. Seeking 50/50 Custody

Another tactic is to seek 50/50 custody. The idea behind this tactic is to argue that both parents have equal time with their children, and therefore, no child support should be paid.

3. Relocation

Some parents may try to relocate to another jurisdiction or even another country to complicate child support enforcement. By making it challenging for the other parent and the authorities to track them down, they hope to avoid paying child support altogether.

4. Underreporting Income

Another common tactic is to underreport their income or conceal additional sources of income. By manipulating financial information, they attempt to lower their child support obligations artificially. This tactic is not only dishonest but can have serious legal consequences if discovered.

5. Voluntary Unemployment or Underemployment

Parents may intentionally choose to remain unemployed or underemployed to reduce their child support obligations. By earning less than their potential or deliberately remaining jobless, they hope to convince the court that they cannot afford the required support payments.

6. Working in Cash-based Industries

Some parents may work in cash-based industries, where earnings are difficult to trace. By receiving payments in cash and avoiding official documentation, they aim to hide their true income from scrutiny, making it harder to calculate accurate child support amounts.

7. Claiming Financial Hardship

Another tactic is to claim financial hardship, stating that they are unable to meet their child support obligations due to economic difficulties. While genuine financial hardships can be taken into consideration, courts will carefully assess such claims to ensure they are valid and not used as an excuse to avoid child support.

8. Delaying Legal Proceedings

Some parents may purposely prolong custody or child support proceedings, creating delays and additional legal expenses for the other parent. By dragging out the process, they hope to wear down the other party and potentially negotiate a reduced support agreement.

If A Parent Obtains 50/50 Custody, Will Child Support Automatically Be Eliminated?

In a 50/50 custody case, child support is not automatically stopped. The court can still order child support payment if parents have joint legal custody and split visitation time 50/50. 

In general, the higher-income parent will be required to pay child support even if parents split 50/50 custody of their child. Though it may sound unfair in theory, if child support were to be abolished, the parent with the lower income would be required to provide a more significant portion of their income to the kid’s support.

In some cases, a judge may decide that child support is unnecessary. This is especially true if both parents earn the same amount of money and share 50/50 custody.

I have written extensively on this issue. If you are interested in 50/50 custody and have questions about child support, you do not want to miss the information in this article. Do You Pay Child Support in 50/50 Custody?

Does Child Support Stop if a Parent Receives Sole Legal Custody?

You will no longer have to pay child support if you are granted full legal and physical custody of your child. 

However, you should also be aware that the court won’t give a parent sole legal custody of a child simply because the parent asks for it or wants to pay less child support. 

There must be a compelling reason for the court to take away the other parent’s legal custody of the child. This rarely happens. The most frequent causes are when the child is neglected or abused.

In my experience, most stats favor each parent having joint legal custody of the children and substantial visitation time.  

The most obvious reason for a judge to grant sole legal and physical custody to one parent is if the judge determines that a parent is neglecting or abusing the child.

The court’s top priority in every custody case is to ensure the children’s safety, and any parent who endangers them is likely to be judged unfit to have custody. 

Will a Parent Spend Less Money if They Obtain Child Custody?

Most people don’t consider this, but there is the possibility that you might wind up spending more money if you end up getting custody of the child. 

According to a recent Brookings Institution analysis of statistics from the U.S. Agriculture Department, your family will spend around $310,605 from the day your baby is born until they turn 18. This amounts to just about $17,000 a year.

Every situation is different, but consider the $17,000 per year estimate to the amount you currently pay for your child support obligation. Is it more or less than $17,000? A parent may even spend more money if they are the child’s primary caregiver than they would pay in child support.

Do Parents Have to Go to Court to Change Child Custody?  

Generally, unless the parents can agree on the custody arrangements of the children, you will have to go to court. If the parents can agree on a custody modification, they may still have to go to court and explain the terms of the agreement, but there will not be an adversarial trial.

Understand that a court will not modify a custody arrangement just because one parent wants to reduce their child support obligation. If you only want to change custody to avoid child support, you will likely lose your case. 

Situations Where a Court Will Modify Child Custody?

In general, to modify child custody, a judge must determine that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the original child custody order and that a change in custody is in the child’s best interest.

In my experience as a lawyer, the judge will typically grant a change in custody for the following reasons:

1. The Custodial Parent Moves

If the custodial parent relocates, the noncustodial parent may petition the court to change custody. Moving is only sometimes viewed as a compelling reason to alter child custody. 

Therefore, there is no assurance that this kind of petition would be successful, but the court should consider relocation while making its judgment.

In my experience, the court will typically view a move as a justification for changing the child custody arrangement in the following situations:

  • The change would significantly burden the noncustodial parent and make it challenging for the existing custody arrangement to continue.

  • The child’s life would be significantly impacted by the move, either negatively or positively.

2. One of the Parents Consistently Disregards the Court’s Custody Order.

A custody agreement is always summarized and incorporated into a custody order. Both parents are obligated to follow the court order.

If one of the other parents is consistently disobeying the court’s custody order, the other parent can submit a petition to change the child custody arrangement. 

The other parent must be appropriately notified of the petition, and the parent requesting a change in custody must prove to the court that the offenses resulted in a material change in the conditions that jeopardized the child’s welfare. 

3. The Needs of the Child Have Substantially Changed.

The custody arrangement that works for a baby might not work when the child is a teenager. At different periods of development, a child may require a different custody arrangement to thrive, making one family more ideal. 

You may be entitled to a custody adjustment if you convince the judge that the child’s needs have changed since the original custody order was put in place.

4. A Parent’s Life Has Significantly Changed.

Child custody orders are not set in stone since courts understand that the parents’ circumstances can change over time. 

Suppose you ask for a custody modification because one of the parents’ circumstances has changed. In that case, you must prove that the change is significant and will materially impact the child’s life and well-being.

Positive and negative circumstances changes may warrant a custody modification. 

For example, the noncustodial parent may get a change that lets them spend more time with their child if they can show that they have been sober for two years and have a steady job. This change in circumstances could result in a modification of the original custody order.

5. The Child’s Living Situation Has Become Dangerous. 

Endangerment is one of the strongest arguments a judge will examine when changing custody because the child’s best interests are always an essential factor. 

The court may alter the custody order and remove or significantly reduce one parent’s rights to physical custody if that parent acts in a way that could jeopardize the health and well-being of a child.

The following actions may qualify for a modification of child custody due to endangerment:

  • Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, or mental (including verbal abuse)

  • Putting the child in a situation where they risk being abused by others by your actions or inaction

  • Abuse of drugs and alcohol that puts the child in danger or has a detrimental impact

  • Issues with mental health (psychotic breaks, hospitalizations, unstable or erratic behavior)

If you find yourself in one of these situations, you should contact the authorities if your child is in immediate danger. 


Any parent attempting to change custody to reduce or eliminate child support should understand the terms of the initial child custody agreements.

Considering this, you should know that the family court is well-equipped to ascertain each parent’s motivations and the court will always make custody decisions based on the child’s best interests. Requesting a change in custody to reduce child support is not likely to be a winning strategy.

Regarding child support issues, every state’s law is different. If you have questions about this, seek the advice of a family lawyer in your jurisdiction. 

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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