A recent article published in the June 17, 2008 edition of the New Jersey Star-Ledger entitled State roundup results in 1,600 arrests, detailed State efforts to capture not only violent fugitives, sexual predators, and alleged gangsters and crooked businessmen, but also parents who are months behind on their child support obligations.
Considering how violent fugitives, gangsters and sexual predators generally consist of the worst of the worst when it comes to the criminal population, the inclusion of parents delinquent in their child support not so subtlety underscores the importance to which the State attaches to a parent’s obligations to their children. While one arrest detailed in the article involved a real estate investor accused of defrauding 43 buyers and 15 banks out of $4.6 million, another arrest discussed involved a man arrested for falling two months behind on his child support payments – a total of $3,000.
The article informs readers that, on a statewide level, $12.6 million is owed in child support and that the State will make a concerted effort twice per year to round up delinquent parents behind on their payments. The penalty for such delinquency can even include jail time until outstanding payments are made.
Parents behind on their child support payments can generally be placed into two groups: those who do not pay because they do not want to or do not care; and (2) those who simply cannot afford to do so for a variety of reasons. While it is easy to say that those parents who fall into the former category get what they deserve, the same cannot be said about the latter.
With the economy spiraling towards a downturn, many parents are losing their jobs and finding it difficult to not only pay for child support, but also to make their own ends meet. That does not mean, however, that a parent can avoid their obligation.
One option for the delinquent parent is to try to amicably work out a revised payment plan or support level with his ex-spouse. While this method is no guarantee that the ex-spouse will simply agree to a reduction or revised payment plan, it is an option that could potentially avoid legal expenses and costs associated with filing a court motion for a support reduction. Of course, any resolution should be in writing and preferably reduced to a Consent Order.
A parent who cannot afford their support obligation can also file a motion in court for a reduction in support based on a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. This, however, is not easy to establish. While evidence of recent involuntary unemployment could aid in seeking a support reduction, courts will not grant a reduction where the unemployment was voluntarily incurred or the delinquent parent relies on a prediction that his income will decline due to market forces. In addition, the parent that lost his job must show a good faith effort to seek new employment. A person in this predicament should keep excellent records of their job search as evidence of their good faith.
Recently, this office was able to preclude a support reduction sought by an ex-spouse who, while not delinquent in his payments, had habitually sought to reduce his payment obligations. While he was able to show that his income had slightly decreased, he was still earning annually in excess of $1 million. Recognizing this defect in his motion papers, the parent also tried to assert that market volatility would further cause his income to decline. Having previously been rebuked for attempting to employ such a strategy, this spouse was not only denied a support reduction, but was also ordered to pay our client’s legal fees and costs.
The lesson to learn here is simple – your child’s well-being is at stake, so make your child support payments in a timely manner. If you fail to do so, it will not only be your ex-spouse who comes after you, but possibly law enforcement as well. The penalty may even include jail time until the outstanding payments are made. If it simply becomes infeasible for you to make your payments, talk to your ex-spouse about a reduction or revised payment plan. If that does not work, file a motion for a support reduction. Be aware, however, that you will need to establish a substantial and continuous change in circumstances.