When a divorce becomes contentious and leaves feelings of anger and bitterness on one or both sides, sometimes parents lose sight of the bigger picture: The health and well-being of any children from the marriage.

When one spouse has been ordered to pay child support, and they feel that it’s not fair or that they went to “get back” at the other spouse, they might try to find a way to avoid paying it without considering how that might affect the children, whether that’s quitting their job outright, reducing their income, or finding a way to be paid under the table so they can effectively hide the income. Here’s what you need to know if you suspect your ex has tried or will try to leave their job to avoid paying child support.

What Do California Laws Say About Stopping Child Support Payments?

California laws clearly state that once child support payments have been determined as part of a divorce and custody, it takes an act of the court to change them. The person responsible for making the payments can’t simply stop paying because they quit their job. When payments are missed, they don’t simply go away. Instead, the ex will find themselves in arrears. That means they’ve missed payments that are still owed and could be in legal trouble.

Proving the delinquency is deliberate rather than the natural outcome of being laid off from a job and having difficulty finding another one can be bureaucratic and something that benefits from the assistance of an experienced child support lawyer. Various records, such as bank and tax records, are just the start of creating a paper trail. The ex would also have to provide evidence that they were laid off and demonstrate a serious effort to find a new job.

What Does It Mean to Impute Income?

A judge may do something called imputing income if they have reason to believe the person responsible for paying child support is deliberately trying to avoid paying. The judge will want to understand why the ex suddenly is under- or unemployed. They’ll assess the situation by studying whether the ex is able to work, has the opportunity to do so, and is willing.

There are some situations in which the ex may legitimately have lost a job and is having trouble finding a new one, or they reduced time at work temporarily to take care of an ailing elderly parent. But if they can’t provide evidence of that, the judge may decide to impute income.

When a judge imputes income, they determine what the income should be for the under- or unemployed parent based on several factors and calculate child support payments based on that.

What Happens if My Ex Continues the Nonpayment of Child Support?

California courts take child welfare, custody, and support seriously. If the ex was found not to have a valid reason for being under- or unemployed but they still don’t make the ordered payments, the consequences can be severe.

Failure to obey a court order, which is what child support is, could be considered contempt of court. If the custodial parent files for contempt of court due to nonpayment of child support, the ex could wind up paying fines and spending up to a year in jail. This is a civil process. Note that there is a statute of limitations of three years for this. If you have waited five years for your ex to start paying you again, you can only file for contempt for the three most recent years.

However, the civil process can become criminal if federal or state prosecutors become involved. This happens in more extreme cases where the nonpayment has gone on for a long time. The ex could face fines and jail time of a year or more.

There are other ramifications as well. Their driving, hunting, and boating licenses can be suspended. They could also have their passport revoked, which could lead to problems with immigration status for immigrants. In addition, the Department of Child Support Services tracks parents who are not paying their ordered support and reports them to the national credit reporting agencies.

What Are Some Ways I Can Get the Child Support Funds?

There are several tactics the courts can use to force the ex to pay what’s owed.

Withhold wages. If the ex is still working, even part-time, the courts can order the child support payments to be withheld from their paycheck to be given to the custodial parent. Another item that can be withheld from their paycheck is the funds to pay for healthcare if the court order stipulates that they were the person who had to cover the child.

Property lien. “Property” is defined here as any personal or real property, such as real estate, bank accounts, and retirement funds. The courts can put a lien on any of those to recoup the overdue child support payments.

Divert tax refunds. If the ex files taxes and is owed a tax refund, those funds can be routed to the custodial parent instead.

What Should I Do if I Think My Ex Quit Their Job to Avoid Paying Child Support?

Call Tomassian, Pimentel & Shapazian as soon as possible at 559-277-7300 to set up a consultation. We know you want what’s best for your child and that child support payments are vital to taking care of that child. These are complex cases and tremendously stressful as well. We will work to help you achieve the best possible outcome.