A while back, I made a rare visit to the county jail to meet with a client. Several years ago, he and his former wife reached an agreement in their divorce about custody, visitation and child support. Things were pretty good – as far as divorces go.
Fast forward a few years…his dependable job and income went away with the recession along with his income. He wasn’t able to keep his bills current and he quickly fell behind in his child support. He kept in contact with his former wife and did other things to try to help when he couldn’t make a child support payment. But he continued to fall further and further behind.
One day, his wife had enough and filed a Rule to Show Cause with the Family Court because my client had fallen nearly $20,000 behind in his support.
At the rule to show cause hearing the presiding judge found him to be in willful contempt of court, sentenced him to 90 days in county jail, ordered him to pay all of his former wife’s attorney fees, and before he could purge his jail sentence he would have had to pay all of the arrears and attorney fees. To add insult to injury, even after finishing the jail sentence, he will still owe the arrears and his new support payments will include some extra amount to be applied to his child support arrears.
He never called a lawyer until he had been served with the contempt complaint. Even when served with the complaint he failed to make an appointment to discuss the case and did not take a lawyer with him to the rule to show cause hearing. He did retain me after being sentenced to jail. At that point we had very limited options to get him out of jail, get the future child support worked out, and get some of the arrears paid for, and to pay for his former wife’s attorney fees. They really had a lot of leverage.
So, what should he have done?
Any issue related to children: custody, visitation and child support – are subject to modification by the Family Court upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. This particular client should have consulted with a lawyer as soon as he lost his job and especially after he was unable to quickly find a new job. It only worked against him to continue to fall further and further behind. Rather than looking out for himself, it looked like he was a deadbeat dad and didn’t care about supporting his children.
If you find yourself falling behind in child support, meet with a lawyer now. You should obtain some legal advice about your options. If you like, you can set up a consultation to discuss your case now.