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Can You Lose Custody for Not Paying Child Support?

Can You Lose Custody for Not Paying Child Support?

With one parent perhaps earning more than the other and the children normally spending more time with one parent than the other (the “custodial” parent), child support is a way of evening out the financial burden of raising a child.

Child support is often a contentious issue between separating or divorcing parents.

But once you are ordered by the court to pay support, you are legally bound by this decision and must make the payments until the order is modified or terminated.

Otherwise, there can be serious repercussions, including jail time. However, it is very unlikely that you will lose custody of your child.

If you’re worried about losing child custody, submit a free case evaluation to our attorneys or give us a call at 720.594.7360.

Child support in Colorado

When parents separate, the Colorado courts want to ensure that the financial needs of the children are cared for adequately, as well as their emotional needs.

With one parent perhaps earning more than the other and the children normally spending more time with one parent than the other (the “custodial” parent), child support is a way of evening out the financial burden of raising a child.

Parents can agree on the amount of child support between themselves – pending approval by the court – or the court can order it.

In fact, the court may order parents to pay a reasonable amount of child support depending on circumstances.

The amount  of child support is based upon several factors:

  • The financial resources of the child, custodial parent, and non-custodial parent
  • The general standard of living that the child is accustomed to
  • The physical, emotional, and educational needs of the child

The Colorado courts use specific calculation methods for determining the level of child support due. The calculated amount due and the payment terms/duration will all be detailed in the court order.

What happens if you fail to pay child support in Colorado?

In many cases, agovernment organization ensures that children receive the required financial and medical support from parents, regulates child support payments, and enforces orders from the court.This organization, Child Support Services (CSS), is a division of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

For child support payments, the Colorado Child Support Enforcement Act provides CSS with the power to:

  • Locate parents
  • Establish child support obligations
  • Enforce child support obligations

In most cases, if you don’t pay child support, the CSS will investigate and attempt financial enforcement. A failure to pay can place financial hardship on the child and custodial parent, so enforcing payments is a high priority of the agency.

CSS has broad legal and administrative powers and can issue a judgment for any amount of overdue or unpaid child support.

Among the measures it can take to enforce payment are:

  • Placing a lien on real estate, personal property or other assets
  • Garnishing wages
  • Garnishing other sources of income
  • Intercepting tax refunds (Colorado state or federal refunds) or lottery winnings

If these strategies are not successful, the custodial parent (with the aid of a lawyer or the CSS) may file paperwork to bring charges of  contempt of court against the non-custodial parent for non-payment of child support.

Failure to pay child support for a child who lives in a different state has been deemed particularly serious. Such circumstances can lead to federal prosecution. The crime can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the amount of unpaid support due.

Contempt of court charges

If you are accused of being in contempt of court, you will need to appear at a hearing to explain why you have not paid child support.

It is advisable to have legal representation as the consequences of a guilty verdict can be severe.

Not surprisingly, the court takes a dim view of anyone disobeying its orders without a good reason.

If you are found to be in contempt of court, you can go to jail for up to 180 days or more and/or face a fine for each violation of the court order.

Other penalties imposed by the court may include:

  • Suspension of your Colorado driver’s license
  • Suspension of your professional/occupational license
  • Suspension of a hunting or fishing license
  • Report of your failure to pay to credit agencies
  • Denial of a passport application

You will also need to pay the outstanding arrears in child support payments (including interest) and, potentially, any court costs and legal fees incurred by your ex-spouse.

Will you lose custody due to missed child support payments?

Struggling to pay child support is quite a common scenario for parents in Colorado. However, you won’t lose your parental rights and generally will not lose custody.

If you don’t pay child support, the custodial parent (with physical custody) is not entitled to stop you from seeing the child. The agreements contained in your parenting plan still apply and your parental rights remain unchanged.

The child’s best interests come first in such matters. The preference in Colorado is always for both parents to be involved in the upbringing of the child. That is usually in the child’s best interests and it doesn’t change because of financial difficulties.

Custody can be amended in other circumstances, such as:

  • One parent harming the child
  • One parent withholding the child from the other parent
  • One parent proving to be an unfit parent

If you do not pay child support, the punitive and remedial measures described in the section above may be employed by the CSS or the court to enforce your obligations – but you will still be able to see your child.

What should you do if you are behind on child support payments?

If you have not been paying child support and are concerned, you may be able to request a reduction in support due to financial hardships. Modifications of support orders are possible in the right circumstances.

No parent should lose custody of a child because of financial hardship.

Speak with one of our child custody attorneys at Colorado Legal Group for advice. Start with a free case evaluation by calling Colorado Legal Group at 720.594.7360.