What to Do if You Can’t Afford Child Support

If you are struggling to pay child support, you are not alone. The most recent numbers collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calculated that more than $115 billion in child support arrearages are currently owed by parents. 

If you are currently struggling to live because of your child support obligation, this article can help.

Legal Steps to Take If You Can’t Afford Child Support?

Step 1: Review Your Income and Expenses

Begin by evaluating your current financial situation. Take a detailed look at your income, including wages, benefits, and any additional sources of revenue. Next, assess your expenses and identify areas where you can potentially make adjustments or cut costs.

Step 2: Requesting a Modification of Child Support

If your financial circumstances have significantly changed since the child support order was issued, you may be eligible for a modification of the child support order. Contact your local family court or consult with an attorney to understand the process and requirements for requesting a modification. This can help ensure that your child support obligations are adjusted based on your current financial situation.

There is no fixed percentage that universally triggers a modification. Instead, it typically depends on the laws and guidelines of the state where the child support order was issued.

In most cases, a substantial change in income, such as a significant increase or decrease, may be necessary to justify a modification. Generally, the change must be deemed substantial enough to impact the ability to meet the existing child support obligations. This determination is usually made by the family court or the relevant child support agency.

It’s important to note that seeking a modification should be based on legitimate reasons, such as a loss of employment, a change in financial circumstances, or other factors that significantly affect one’s ability to pay or receive child support.

Valid Reasons to Ask For a Child Support Modification

Valid reasons for a change in circumstances that may result in decreased income and a need to modify child support can include:

  • Job Loss or Unemployment: If the paying parent loses their job or experiences a significant decrease in income due to unemployment, it can be a valid reason to seek a modification of child support.

  • Reduction in Work Hours: If the paying parent’s work hours are reduced, resulting in a substantial decrease in income, it can be a valid reason to request a modification.

  • Income Reduction due to Health Issues: If the paying parent experiences a decline in income due to health-related issues that affect their ability to work or earn as much as before, it may warrant a modification of child support.

  • Change in Employment Status: Any change in employment status, such as transitioning from full-time to part-time work or taking a lower-paying job, may be considered a valid reason to seek a modification.

  • Business Downturn or Financial Hardship: If the paying parent owns a business or experiences a significant decline in their financial situation, such as a downturn in their business or financial hardship, it can be a legitimate reason to request a modification.

  • Disability or Incapacity: If the paying parent becomes disabled or incapacitated, resulting in a substantial decrease in their ability to earn income, it may justify a modification of child support.

  • Change in Custodial Arrangements: If there is a significant change in the custody arrangement, such as the child spending more time with the paying parent, it can be a valid reason to reassess child support obligations based on the new arrangement.

Step 3: Negotiating with the Other Parent

Open and honest communication with the other parent is essential when facing financial difficulties. Try to discuss the situation calmly and explore the possibility of renegotiating the child support agreement. Keep in mind that the best interests of the child should always be the priority.

In some cases, both parents may agree to an informal arrangement that deviates from the court-ordered child support. This could involve temporarily reducing or suspending payments until the financial situation stabilizes. However, it is crucial to document any changes in writing and ensure the agreement protects the child’s rights and interests.

If both parties can reach a mutually acceptable agreement, it may provide temporary relief during challenging times.

Step 4: Apply for Government Assistance

In certain circumstances, you may qualify for government assistance programs that can help alleviate the financial burden of child support. Research and inquire about available options such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or other state-specific programs. These programs are designed to provide temporary financial support to parents who are struggling to meet their obligations.

Step 5: Seeking Support from Family and Friends

During difficult times, it’s essential to reach out for support. Lean on family and friends who may be able to provide temporary assistance or offer guidance. They can lend a listening ear and may have valuable insights or resources that could help you navigate your financial situation.

Step 6: Non-Profit and Religious Organizations

Numerous non-profit organizations and churches provide support and resources to parents facing financial difficulties. These organizations may offer financial counseling, legal aid, or assistance in connecting with community programs.

Step 7: Community Programs

Check with local community centers or government agencies for programs that provide assistance to families in need. These programs may offer financial aid, job placement services, or access to resources that can help improve your financial situation.

Step 8: Online Support Forums

Online support forums and communities can be valuable sources of information and emotional support. Engage with others who have faced similar challenges and seek advice or share experiences. Remember to exercise caution and verify the credibility of information obtained from online sources.

What Are The Consequences if You Don’t Pay Child Support?

The consequences of not paying your child support obligations can be severe. Failing to pay your child support obligation can lead to numerous consequences, including: 

  • Contempt of court charges and jail time.

  •  Garnishment of your wages.

  •  Reporting nonpayment to credit bureaus.

  •  Filing liens on your property.

  •  Taking lottery winnings. 

  •  Taking your tax refund.

  •  Suspending your driver’s license.

  •  Asking the prosecutor to file criminal non-support charges against you.

Another thing to remember is that filing for bankruptcy won’t help relieve the child’s support debt. Child support owed in the past is not eligible for bankruptcy forgiveness.

If you are struggling to pay your child support and have fallen behind, you may be able to explore options.

When Can Child Support Payments Be Lowered?

If the noncustodial parent can no longer afford to pay child support, there are options that help. The best option is to request a child support reduction. The most common reason for ordering a reduction is when a parent’s financial situation has changed. 

To get a child support payment reduced, the parent must file a motion to modify the amount of child support being paid. A motion to modify child support is a formal request asking the courts to reevaluate and reduce the previous child support order. The court is not obligated to grant the motion to modify but will if there is proof that the noncustodial parent’s financial situation has changed significantly enough to justify the change.

Most often, child support payments will be lowered by the court in the following situations:

  • The noncustodial parent’s income has gone down. When the noncustodial parent’s income is substantially lower than when the child support obligation was originally calculated, the court will likely reduce the child support order. Often, this occurs when a parent loses his or her job, is incarcerated, or becomes disabled.

  •  The custody arrangement with the child changes. If the custody arrangement changes and more routine expenses are incurred by the noncustodial parent, modifications are often granted.

  •  There has been an increase in living expenses. For example, if health insurance costs significantly rise, the paying parent’s monthly child support obligation may be reduced to reflect that.

  •  The noncustodial parent has another child. With the addition of new children, the family will have increased expenses. If a noncustodial parent has additional children, the courts may lower the parent’s child support obligation. If the calculation was based on a single child, then the parent later had children with their new spouse, then the amount of income that should be used to support the children must now be divided equally between all of them.

Do Parents Have to Go to Court to Modify a Child Support Order?

As discussed above, a court-approved child support obligation may be revised if there has been a substantial change in one of the parent’s finances or a change in the child’s living circumstances.

Generally, a child support order modification may be accomplished informally or formally. If both parents agree upon the change, it is unnecessary to go to trial or have a contested hearing to make a simple change to the parenting plan.

If you and the custodial parent can agree on a modified child support amount, you can file the agreement (called a stipulation) for modification with the court. Most courts will grant the request without a formal hearing, depending on the nature of the change. 

The judge will probably sign the agreement without a hearing if it is only a minor change. If the change is more significant, the judge may ask the parents to come to court to talk with them so that the judge can make sure that the change to the order is in the best interest of the child.

Court Orders: Why You Should Get a Court Order Anytime You Modify Child Support

It is crucial that the court formally modifies the child support order for your protection. It is best to refrain from entering into an oral agreement with the other parent of your child that is not binding. The court may not recognize an informal agreement as valid or binding if there is a future dispute over the amount owed (in fact, it is likely that this agreement won’t be recognized).

If you reach an informal agreement with the custodial parent, put it in writing and file it with the court. The court will review the agreement, and if it finds the change in child support amount is in the child’s best interest, it will sign a new order to modify the child support amount.

Child support laws vary from state to state. If you have questions about modifying your child support, you should contact a family law attorney in your jurisdiction.

What To Read Next


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

Recent Posts