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  • Tri Cities Law Group

Can’t Pay Child Support? FAQs About Your Options in Virginia



What happens if you can't pay child support in Virginia? According to the U.S. Administration For Children and Families, the Virginia child support system served 232,000 children in 2022. If you are recently divorced or separated from your partner and can't afford child support, take a look at what you need to know about the state's system, your responsibilities, and your options.


Why Do You Need To Pay Child Support?


Your child has needs—and these needs cost money. Your child's basic needs include everything from the food that they eat to the roof over their head. Additional costs may include the price of athletic participation, private school, daycare, or an after-school program.


The money paid through the child support system directly funds your child's necessities (such as food, housing, clothing, and healthcare) and more. It also helps both parents to take financial responsibility for the child and forces each party to contribute.


Does Every Parent Pay Child Support?


No, every parent does not pay child support. The custodial parent (the parent who the child primarily resides with) typically wouldn't need to pay child support. This parent already pays for the home the child lives in, the food they eat, and often pays for other necessities (such as clothing and hygiene products).


The court decides which needs to pay support to the other parent and the amount of the payments. Payments will vary by income level. This makes it important to report your full income.


What Happens If You Can't Pay the Required Amount?


Even though the court assigns child support payments based on income, it's possible that some parents won't have the financial ability to make the full payment.


If you lose your job, have to take a lower paying job, can't work due to unavoidable circumstances (such as a health-related incident, accident, or the need to seek substance abuse or mental health treatment), or have an unexpected major expense, you may struggle to meet the amount in your existing child support order.


According to the Virginia Department of Social Services, child support is still due whether you are or are unable to work. This means the loss of a job or the inability to work due to an illness or injury won't release you from your obligation to pay support for your child. But it doesn't mean you will need to continue paying the same amount or that there aren't ways to find support of your own.


If you can't make child support payments, you must contact Virginia's Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) immediately. DCSE may review your order and can help you with the next steps. You may need to file a modification to your child support order. This changes the original order and is based on your current income.


Parents who have lost their job or can't find a job may need help that goes beyond a modified custody order. If there are barriers that prevent you from working, you don't have the job skills necessary to find meaningful employment, or you need financial support, the Virginia Department of Social Services Family Engagement Services division can help.


Do You Need A Lawyer If You Owe Child Support?


Failure to pay child support will result in penalties. If you do have a job, the state may withhold income directly from your employer. The state may also file a lien on your property (if you own a home), report failure to pay to credit agencies, suspend your driver's license, suspend other licenses that you may have, or impose fees.


The possibility of a jail-time is a last resort that the state may choose to use if DCSE has exhausted other options. The penalties for failure to pay make it important to get the legal help you need right now.


Don't go through the child support process alone. If you need a modification to an order, can't pay support, or have other questions about the process, contact Tri Cities Law Group for more information.

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