Call Us for a Consultation

What Are Child Support Arrears?

A shocked man reads a court letter.

Child support arrears are the amount of money owed to a custodial parent for overdue child support. In Illinois, the arrears may grow with a 9% interest rate per year, meaning that the amount can increase drastically over time. Some parents owing support may also be required to pay the other parent’s lawyer fees and could be held in contempt depending on the circumstances.

A shocked man reads a court letter.

What Is Considered Delinquent Child Support?

Delinquent child support is any payment that is past due. In other words, a parent in Illinois who has even a small amount of unpaid child support has an Illinois child support arrearage balance.

Child support arrears often accumulate over time, with parents owing past-due child support payments with the applicable interest kicking in after 30 days. Delinquent child support can lead to wage garnishment, loss of driver’s license, and even jail time in extreme cases.

How Can Parents Document a Lack of Payments?

Parents keeping track of payments helps the court determine child support arrears. Parents should never accept cash, since it is hard to document. Other ways of paying may be fine, especially if there is a memo or note line/field to explain the reason for the payment.

Primary parents should keep receipts for expenses and burdens that the other parent has created by not paying child support. Further, primary parents should document written or verbal communications with the noncustodial parent about child support.

When Does the Court Become Involved?

The court does not get involved automatically if a former partner falls behind on child support payments. Rather, the parent who is owed money must notify the court, so a judge can then step in and order payment. A child support lawyer can greatly streamline and expedite the process.

One of the first things the court does is determine the arrearage (the amount of delinquent child support). What happens next can vary based on the specific case and the wishes of the parent receiving support. Some let the judge decide how to proceed, while others work with their former partners to devise a repayment plan.

If you are owed payments, you may feel pressure to go along with what your ex wants, especially if he or she fears what the court might order to enforce child support. Your lawyer can clarify for you the court options that should work in your child’s best interests.

What Can the Court Order for Child Support Arrears?

The courts can take child support in Illinois seriously. Judges may impose penalties that seem harsh, but the goal is to ensure children have both parents taking care of them. The court can impose wage garnishment, among other consequences.

  • Wage and benefits garnishing: This is a common path that judges take. The court orders your former partner’s employer to subtract a certain amount of money from his or her disposable (after-tax) income on paychecks. Wage garnishment stops when the full balance owed plus the interest is paid off. Most private disability payments and SSDI benefits can be garnished too, although SSI cannot be.
  • Seizing assets: The court could seize tax returns, bank accounts, and business assets from your former partner to pay delinquent child support. Liens could be placed on your former partner’s property, too.
  • Enforcing interest: Payments more than 30 days past their due date can accrue interest.
  • Suspending licenses: Payments more than 90 days overdue can result in your former partner’s license being suspended. However, your ex is likely to get a limited driving permit allowing for travel to work. The goal is for your ex to still be able to work to make money for payments. Hunting and fishing licenses, passports, and professional licenses can be seized.

If your former partner ignores child support orders, contempt of court could result since your ex is violating divorce orders. Possible outcomes include up to six months in jail or probation, with some flexibility for work arrangements. These wages may be partially or fully seized to go toward child support payments. A parent could be considered in contempt until at least 20% of the obligation is paid.

In extreme cases, jail time of as long as a year could result. That is because it is a misdemeanor in Illinois to refuse (willfully fail) to make child support payments. If your former partner owes a great deal of money or lives in another state, felony charges could be possible, as could be federal government involvement.

How Are Child Support Arrears Calculated?

The custodial parent often must ask the court to add 9% interest to child support arrears. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services no longer calculates, establishes, or enforces interest that is not court-ordered, although it accepts one-time written requests from parents to establish interest in some cases.

Assuming 9% interest, child support arrears are calculated based on the amount of unpaid child support plus the accumulated interest. If a parent in Illinois fails to pay $1,000 in child support for one year, the parent’s child support arrearage balance is $1,090 ($1,000 + 9% interest).

The court may also impose penalties for late or missed child support payments. The penalties can take the form of fines, wage garnishment, and even jail time in extreme cases. In some situations, the noncustodial parent must pay attorney’s fees for his or her former partner.

Is There a Statute of Limitations?

There is no statute of limitations for arrears. Parents can be held accountable for late payments well after their children have become adults.

Can Modifications Affect Arrears?

Parents might get their child support amounts modified, and the changes can be substantial. Payments can be lowered if parents lose their jobs, become disabled, or get sick.

However, these modifications usually do not affect child support arrears. That’s why, if your life circumstances change, it is vital that you seek modifications as soon as possible. It’s unlikely your obligations will be lowered after the fact.

Can Parents Behind on Child Support Still See Their Children for Visitation?

Parents who owe child support arrears can still see their kids as outlined by the parenting plan. It is not a good idea for a primary parent to keep children from the other parent in contradiction of a court order, even if the noncustodial parent owes child support. Legal trouble could result for the primary parent because visitation and child support are separate issues in the eyes of the state.

Why Parents Don’t Pay Child Support

The reasons that parents don’t pay child support can play a role in how severe the punishments for non-payment are. For example, a parent who has the means and ability to pay, but simply refuses, could end up in jail and have to pay fines. Meanwhile, parents who lost their jobs and who cannot pay may face less stiff consequences, especially if they act quickly to modify any orders to reflect their new situation.

Disability can affect child support. Obligations typically do not stop, but the amount of child support and how it is paid can change. Parents dealing with new disabilities can seek a modification of child support if they have less income coming in. Disability payments generally don’t equal a parent’s previous take-home pay. A new disability probably won’t change the amount owed previously, though.

A judge may also be more lenient with parents who are paying some child support, although not the full amount. Paying partially is a way of telling the court that a parent is not willfully ignoring the obligation.

There are many reasons a parent might not pay child support (or not pay the full amount). They include:

  • Financial hardship: For various reasons, financial difficulties can make it tricky for parents to cover their basic needs, let alone child support.
  • Unemployment or underemployment: Parents may have lost their job or have been forced to take lower-paying jobs.
  • Disagreements about custody or visitation: A parent may disagree with the other parent’s custody or visitation arrangements and refuse to pay child support.
  • Resentment or anger: A parent may refuse to pay child support as a way to punish the other parent.
  • Lack of awareness: Some parents are unaware of their child support responsibilities or may not know how to make the payments.
  • Addiction: Substance abuse or addiction can make it difficult for parents to hold a job or prioritize financial obligations.

Legal issues are also a reason some parents have child support arrears. Being in jail or facing deportation often makes paying child support difficult.

Why Pursue Child Support Arrears?

Parents sometimes hesitate before pursuing child support arrears or don’t do it at all. For example, they may think it’s unfair to pursue when the other parent is going through a lot or think it is not going to work anyway.

Pursuing usually is worthwhile, though. Children need financial support for their health and well-being. If one parent fails to meet this financial obligation, it puts a serious, unfair burden on the primary parent, as well as the children.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
Related Blog Posts