Child support arrears are something you do not want to incur as a parent. This can be a debt that is destructive and has bad consequences for you, financially and legally. It is essential to take your child support responsibilities seriously from the beginning.

This guide is going to discuss everything you need to know about child support arrears and how they work.

What Is Arrears in Child Support?

Arrears in child support occur when the non-custodial parent does not fulfill their obligation. In other words, they fail to pay the amount of child support that has been agreed to. Thus, the mother or father falls into arrears. This is another word that is used to describe a debt. Arrears can refer to one payment that is missed or more than one.

To give you some context you should know that, when a couple has a child but they are no longer together, the non-custodial parent will have to pay child support. This is essential for taking care of the child and making sure that he or she has financial support for everything that they need.

This involves paying a certain amount of money each month to the custodial parent.

How Does Arrears Work in Child Support?

It is always important that a mother or father meets their obligation and pays their child support. Otherwise, the custodial parent that does not receive the child support they need has the right to take legal action against them. This is an action to collect the child support arrears that are accumulating.

There are two types of child support arrears that you need to be aware of. First, there is assigned arrears, which means that child support payments will go to the state if they have not been paid. This happens with the custodial parent having to rely on public assistance because they were not receiving the child support they require. Thus, the non-custodial parent has to pay this back to the state.

Then there are unassigned arrears in child support. This is when the non-custodial parent has to pay the debt they have accrued to the custodial parent. This happens when the parent has not been meeting their obligation but the custodial parent did not turn to public assistance during this time.

Can You Sort Child Support Arrears Informally With a Partner?

Hopefully yes, if you are in a position where you can speak to your ex-partner and sort out the child support arrears. Perhaps there is a reason why they are not paying and it could be something that you could discuss like adults and come to an arrangement on.

However, often this is not the case and it is best to get assistance with the issue. In particular, this means getting the law involved or contacting a government agency to help you. For example, in a lot of states, there is a child support services department that is going to be able to give you advice on arrears in child support.

Can an Agency Withhold Income From a Non-custodial Parent?

Yes, one way that money can be regained from child support arrears is through wage garnishment. This means that money will automatically be taken from the non-custodial parent’s bank account every month when they are paid. This is to put toward the debt they have.

This can also be called income assignment. The employer of the non-custodial parent will have an order to deduct the child support from their paycheck and this will be sent to the local child support office. Alternatively, it may be sent directly to the custodial parent.

Therefore, money will be deducted just like social security or income tax.

Of course, this solution is going to work if the non-custodial parent has a job and they receive regular payments. However, there are going to be situations where this is not the best solution and there are other avenues that you can go down.

It is also possible for a child support agency to freeze a bank account. This is going to require the person to pay off the debt if they want to access the money that is in this bank account. In some cases, states will allow money to be withdrawn to pay off the debt after a certain number of days.

Can An Agency Withhold Other Income Payments?

Yes. If someone is receiving disability or veterans’ benefits, these can be used to pay child support arrears.

Other examples include:

  • Workers compensation
  • Retirement money
  • Pension benefits
  • Commission income

There are going to be situations where the non-custodial parent does not have a full-time job where an agency can withhold their income. But, this does not mean that they are not subject to having payments taken away from them. Instead, it is possible to withhold other forms of income.

Can a Lien Be Placed on Property?

Yes, a lien can be placed on your property. This could be on real estate or other pricey pieces of property you own, such as a car. Some states allow a person to file for a lien and other states require this to be done by a child support agency.

When a lien is placed on property, this means that the non-custodial parent must pay the money they owe. Otherwise, they may have to sell the property. While this is not going to lead to immediate payment for the custodial parent, it does mean that they are going to be able to get the child support they need eventually.

There are also situations where a child support enforcement agency is able to seize property in order to pay off the child support arrears. This can be called attachments and it will force the sale of the property in order to pay the custodial parent. In some cases, the custodial parent may be able to acquire the ownership of that item.

Can a License Be Revoked for Unpaid Child Support?

Yes, a state is able to revoke the non-custodial parent’s driving or professional license. Not a lot of people realize that it is not just financial sanctions that can happen as a result of not paying back child support arrears. The purpose of these measures is so that you pay back the debt you have.

It is not just a driver’s license that is in danger of revocation from unpaid child support. It is also possible for a state to suspend a professional license too. For example, this could be something like a medical or legal license to practice in the state.

This could be a devastating blow for a non-custodial parent and it will make you want to pay back the money you owe to the custodial parent.

Therefore, the purpose of the revocation of a license is to make it impossible for a parent to ignore arrears payment for child support. They will have to agree that they are going to pay the money to their partner so that they can regain their licenses, which may be key to their livelihood and everyday life.

Can a Non-Custodial Parent Go to Court?

Yes, the non-custodial parent can be charged with contempt of court. This is when you commit disrespectful behavior that is going against the court process. So, by not paying the child support that was agreed to in court, you can be charged with this crime. As a result, you can receive an expensive fine or you can spend up to six months in jail for this offense, depending on the state you are in.

As you can see, there are a number of enforcement solutions out there when a non-custodial parent does not pay child support. But, if none of them are suitable or are working for the situation, it is possible for the custodial parent to bring them to court. This is going to allow a judge to look at the case and decide what the best solution is.

Is It Possible To Forgive Child Support Arrears?

No — It is important to realize that a non-custodial parent does not have to forgive and forget child support arrears. This is entirely their decision as these are payments they are entitled to receive for their child. They must be the one to complete the waiver and agree they want to forget about the child support arrears.

However, there are times when a custodial parent will be very understanding toward the parent that cannot pay child support. There can be a number of reasons for this and it is possible to forget the payments that have been missed.

In order to do this, the custodial parent has to agree to sign a waiver. This is going to lead to a court order that states the non-custodial parent has been relieved of their child support arrears. For instance, this can happen if the couple come to an agreement, the money was not necessary for the child’s welfare or the couple are now back together.

Is There a Difference Between Retroactive Child Support and Child Support Arrears?

Simply, retroactive child support is the amount a partner owes before the support order is taken to court. Then there are child support arrears, which is when a partner does not pay the amount of support that was settled in the child support order. The arrearages child support is what will accumulate if you do not pay and stick to the arrangement that is made.

Something to be aware of is that in some states, child support arrears can actually gain interest. This means that you not only have to pay the amounts that are due to the other parent, but you are also going to have to pay interest on top of that amount. Often, this is a high rate that can be 10 percent or more.

Can There Be a Modification of Child Support?

Yes, it is possible for there to be an adjustment for child support. The order does not have to be permanent and a court can review the amounts that a parent has to pay. This can take into account the changes that have happened. But, there is going to have to be evidence that a person can no longer meet the child support requirements.

There may be certain reasons why child support arrears have happened. In other words, there might be legitimate reasons why a parent is not able to pay the amount they are due anymore. For example, they may have lost their job or they have other expenses that they have to pay for all of a sudden. In all these cases, a modification of child support may be required.


Child support is very important for a child’s upbringing and ensuring that they are able to get everything they need. But, parents often find that they accumulate child support arrears and this is something that should be taken seriously.

Let’s summarize what we have covered in this article:

  • A non-custodial parent pays child support and this is an obligation they must fulfill.
  • Child support arrears will accumulate if the parent misses a payment and legal action can be taken against them.
  • Assigned arrears will go to the state if the custodial parent has public assistance from the state.
  • Unassigned arrears must be paid to the custodial parent directly.
  • You may be able to sort out child support arrears informally if you are on good terms with your ex-partner.
  • Wage garnishment can be used to gain money from a non-custodial parent every month.
  • A child support agency might be able to freeze a bank account to gain the money necessary.
  • Payments can be withheld from a non-custodial parent if they are not paying child support, such as pension benefits and commission income.
  • A lien can be placed over your property so that you have to pay the child support arrears.
  • Property can even be seized by a child support enforcement agency in order to pay the custodial parent.
  • The revocation of licenses is possible so that parents pay the money to the other person.
  • A custodial parent can sign a waiver to forget about child support arrears.

The best thing that parents can do is to pay their child support on time. If this is not going to be possible for legitimate reasons, speak to the custodial parent and try to come to a solution that is best for your child.

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