By Curtis Wiberg
If you’ve been ordered to pay child support for your children, it’s not an obligation you should get behind on. When it comes to ensuring that child support is paid, Colorado law is not messing around, and the consequences can be quite severe. Those consequences can range from complete financial ruin to the loss of your freedom, up to 180 days at a time. In Part 1 of this posting, I will touch on some of those consequences you might face. Part 2 will be reserved for the broader and more severe reach attorneys may have to enforce a child support order. I will also educate my readers regarding the long arm of the government as relates to child support debt. Sometimes you may have both the government and a private attorney coming after you. Again, the system as a whole takes child support seriously. You should, too.
The financial consequences alone for not paying child support can persist long past your children becoming adults. Under Colorado statute, your monthly child support obligation is treated as an individual judgment for every month in which it’s not paid. That judgment then allows the parent receiving support (the “obligee”) to execute the full range of collection options normally available to a creditor, as well as other options only available for support judgments.
Unlike other judgments that collect 8% annual simple interest, child support judgments collect 12% interest per year, compounded monthly. See C.R.S. § 14-14-106. Furthermore, the statute of limitations to collect on child support judgments is 20 years. It is possible, because of the compounding interest, for a person who only owes $200 per month and who skips out of paying child support for ten or more years, to end up owing over $100,000, even though the principal balance is a small fraction of that. In fact, we have litigated cases in which $100,000 or less in principal turns into $400,000 or more. Once that judgment is in tact, wages can be garnished up to 65% of the obligor’s after-tax income. This can be financially crippling to anyone, and the law generally doesn’t care.
To make the consequences even worse, a child support judgment is something you can’t just erase through a bankruptcy, ever. Once a child support debt gets out of hand, it becomes almost impossible to rectify the situation. That being said, there are some steps a child support obligor can take if falling behind. If the reason for falling behind is because of reduced income due to job loss or other circumstance, the obligor may be able to avail herself or himself of a modification of child support pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-122. This will necessitate the changed income leading to a 10% reduction in the current child support amount. Even if it takes a few months for the court to enter a modified order, the modification is generally applied back to the date of filing. Because of this, if circumstances have changed such that an obligor can no longer paying the ordered child support, it is imperative to not delay requesting a modification of support. I have seen way too many instances in which the obligor just does nothing, and catastrophe often follows.
Perhaps the most effective route to get out from under an unmanageable child support debt is negotiation. The obligee is empowered to forgive child support debt. As such, it is not uncommon for the obligor to be able to negotiate a settlement on the debt, particularly in instances where there is a long track record of nonpayment. In these cases, the obligee may be willing to take a lesser lump sum, such as a lump sum of $5,000 on a $10,000 child support debt. Why? Because the obligee knows the hassles of trying to collect are great and the chances of collecting are slim. Thus, it may make more sense for the recipient to get something now, while the getting is good. Obviously, reaching an agreement requires both parties coming to terms, which does not always happen. Additionally, the obligor may be in a situation in which a loan from friends or family will be needed to make that lump sum payment.
Ultimately, though, falling behind on a child support obligation, whether you’re over-extended in your budget, you’re angry at the other parent, or whatever reason, is not a good situation to get yourself into. In the second part of this article I will focus on more drastic consequences one might face, such as contempt of court. I will also go into some of the specific techniques a seasoned private attorney might employ to collect from you, which can be effective in exacting payment, or worse. Finally, I will also explore the powers of the county Child Support Enforcement Unit, including the long reach they have under both federal and state law. If you owe back child support and are reading this post, you might do well to contact a Denver child support attorney to see how to start digging out of that hole. Remember, the obligee may also be reading this article, or researching other options on-line, with the intent of figure out how to bring consequences to you first.
Curtis Wiberg can be contacted at www.plogsteinlaw.com to learn more about your options related to child support debt.