Get Out of Debt Guy

I Can't Survive Paying Child Support. - Thomas

Posted May 21, 2013
Updated May 23, 2013

WRAL Reader Question

Dear Steve,

My child support was setup in Alabama a few years ago and I was paying the support. Then I received a lien release stating that I was not responsible for any further child support past, present or further.

At the end of last year I received a notice stating that Alabama wanted me to pay support, which I started at the first of this year.

The problem is they want me to pay $26,000 in back support and it keeps going due to interest. I will never be able to pay this sometimes I only take home $5.

How can I take care of this?

Can I file bankruptcy?


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Dear Thomas,

A close friend of mine in Raleigh has been dealing with a similar situation regarding his child support. But in his case, every time he would get caught up and a raise, most retroactive child support would then be due.

Child support is a crazy mixed up problem. On one hand the support is supposed to be used for the care and well-being of the child, and sometimes it's just not spent that way.

Other times the father is either just struggling to make ends meet or not paying at all and risking time in jail over that.

The problem with the need for child support and the struggle to pay it stems from the separation of the married home. Mathematically many divorces don't add up. What was a family living together and getting by, often becomes two households that wind up both struggling.

In many ways they are now trying to get by paying for two lives on half as much pooled money.

It's not unusual for financial problems to surface following a divorce. The issue I see most often is when one spouse is supposed to take over the responsibility of one or more of the old debts.

What seems to not be explained well, or maybe people just don't hear it, is that the divorce agreement does nothing to alter the liability of the underlying debts. When you get divorced you divorce your spouse, not your creditor.

So a debt that the husband was supposed to pickup and pay, like an old joint credit card, will soon come back around for the wife to pay if the husband can't deal with child support and paying the credit card bill. When he defaults the creditor will demand payment from the wife. The wife can always take the husband back to court to try to force him to pay but that can get expensive to do.

Unfortunately child support is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. But, if you have other financial obligations that are making it tough to make the child support payments, discharging those in bankruptcy can make it easier to afford the child support payments.

Alabama uses a sliding scale to calculate the mandatory child support payment. You've probably seen the chart.

According to the State of Alabama they can use any of the following tools to recover back child support:

Income Withholding
A court or administrative order directing the non-custodial parent’s employer to deduct child support from his/her wages. This is one of the quickest and most effective enforcement remedies.

Reporting the NCP to Credit Bureaus
If the Non-custodial parent’s arrears are greater than $1000, this information is automatically submitted to credit reporting agencies. Once the arrears balance reaches zero, it is reported as such. However, the debt will remain on the credit file for 7 years based on credit law.

Certifying debts for Income Tax offsets
If a parent owes back support (at least $150 if his or her child receives TANF or $500 if the child does not receive TANF), the state can report the parent to the Internal Revenue Service and the State Department of Revenue. Support is then deducted from the parent’s federal or state tax refund and paid to the family (or to the state). A $10 certification fee will be deducted from any money collected by the intercept.

Federal Passport Denial, Revocation or Restriction Program (This actually happened to my friend in NC.)
If the non-custodial parent’s arrears are greater than $2500, a case may be eligible for passport denial.

Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM)
The purpose of FIDM is to identify accounts within financial institutions belonging to non-custodial parents who are delinquent in their child support obligations. Once identified, these accounts are subject to liens and levies.

A lien is a legal hold on property so that the debt must be paid before the property can be sold or refinanced. A lien can be placed on real estate or personal property such as vehicles, bank accounts, insurance settlements or lump sum payments

License Suspension/Revocation
Non paying non-custodial parents could possibly have their driver’s, professional, sporting and/or recreational licenses suspended, revoked or withheld in Alabama.

Federal Prosecution
A 1992 law makes it a federal crime to cross state lines in order to avoid paying child support. These cases are prosecuted by federal authorities. Contact your child support worker for more information.

IRS Full Collection
A last resort involves asking the Internal Revenue Service for action to collect back support of at least $750. In order to do this, we must identify assets or annual income of the non-custodial parent, and know the parent's social security number and address or place of employment. The IRS charges a fee for this service.

Apparently Alabama charges 12 percent interest on back child support so I can see how the balances would continue to grow in your situation.

It seems the logical way to deal with this is to try and get the child support order modified to a payment that is affordable and agreeable to all parties. In Alabama you do have the right to ask for a payment modification or change. You can request the State of Alabama to review the support order and come to an agreement with you regarding the change. They will then prepare the legal papers and take them to court.

If you can get the change approved then you can get current on regular payments while paying more towards the past due amount.

Unfortunately you might find you'll have to solve this problem the old fashioned way, like my friends did, with two jobs.

Steve Rhode
WRAL Get Out of Debt Guy

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About this Blog:

Steve Rhode has had careers in opthalmology, real estate and as the head of a nonprofit debt counseling firm. On his blog, he offers hard-won, free advice about getting out of debt, consolidation and making the right choices as you manage your money.