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What Happens If You Stop Paying Child Support?

Christine DiGangi

Money issues are often the cause of a divorce, but for some people, financial problems get worse after they split. Take child support for example: One parent may rely on it to make ends meet, while the other has to come up with the money, and if he or she fails to do so, that parent may face some serious legal and financial consequences.

The Price of Being a Deadbeat

Most child support cases are dealt with on the state level, but failing to make court-ordered child support payments could land you in trouble with the federal government if nonpayment goes on long enough or exceeds a certain amount. It also becomes a federal issue if a parent tries to get out of payments by leaving the state or country. (In fact, the Office of the Inspector General has a “most wanted” list of deadbeats, most of whom seem to have fled the country and owe tens of thousands — some even hundreds of thousands — of dollars.)

Many states allow law enforcement officers to imprison noncustodial parents who fail to pay child support, as well as impose fines for delinquent payments. Restitution and interest may well exceed the amount originally owed, which can lead to a mountain of child support debt.

How Child Support Affects Your Credit

Going to jail certainly would be unpleasant, but skipping out on child support can have a long-lasting financial impact as well. The parent with custody of the children can sue for what he or she is owed, and if the judge rules in that parent’s favor, the noncustodial parent will end up with a judgment on his or her credit report.

Judgments are seriously derogatory and can damage your credit for a very long time. It depends on what state you live in and whether you pay or settle the judgment, but you’ll certainly see your credit score drop once a judgment appears on your credit report. If you find a judgment on your credit report (in the public records section), here’s what you can do to resolve it.

If you’re dealing with a negative tradeline like a judgment, you’ll definitely want to keep up with your credit score and work to improve it in any way you can, because poor credit can be very costly and make it difficult for you to access some financial services. You can easily check your credit reports for free through AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can review your credit data for free with monthly updates through Credit.com.

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