The economy has taken a dive in recent months. Unemployment is up, and those with jobs may feel less secure about their income stability. In such a financially precarious situation, you may be faced with some difficult choices. Do you pay your child support this month, if it means falling behind on rent or utility bills?

It may seem like an impossible decision to make. But there are two things you should know:

  1. Child support debt can create real problems in many aspects of your life.
  2. If circumstances outside of your control make you unable to afford your child support payments, you have options.

How child support delinquency can haunt you

It may be easy to think of child support as an obligation you have just to your ex-spouse. But in fact, it is actually a legal obligation. If you fall behind, North Carolina Child Support Services (CSS) can petition the court to take action against you in any of these areas.:

  • Transportation and travel: The court can revoke your driver’s license if you are more than 90 days behind in payment. They can also have your passport application rejected – or revoke your current passport.
  • Ability to work: If you work in a field that requires a professional license (e.g., lawyer, electrician, nurse) and you are more than 90 days behind in payment, the court can have your license suspended until you have repaid your debt.
  • Income: If you are currently working, the court can arrange for your employer to deduct a portion of your paycheck for child support. Even if you’re not working but are earning income through other means (e.g. workers’ compensation, disability, unemployment, tax refunds), the court can withhold this income as well.
  • Credit: Child support debt is just like any other debt: it can be reported to the credit bureaus. If this happens, it can often drop your credit score by 100 points or more.
  • Property: Any property you own can also go towards repaying your child support debt. The court can place liens on anything from your house to your car – and they can seize this property if you do not pay what you owe.
  • Freedom: In the worst case, the court could hold you in contempt – in which case you could be arrested and serve jail time.

You have options

If your financial circumstances have changed and you can no longer afford your child support payments, simply ignoring these payments can cause you a lot of problems. It’s important to report any involuntary changes in your finances as soon as possible – and to seek a modification to your child support order. This can help to keep you in the good graces of the court.