What Rights Does a Father Have to His Children If He Doesn't Pay Child Support?

Family courts usually support a child's right to a relationship with both parents, even if a noncustodial parent isn't paying child support. If a father is ordered by the court to pay child support and doesn't do so, he may be targeted for collection activity. However, his right to visitation with his child is considered to be a separate issue by the courts.


Child Support

If parents maintain separate households due to divorce, separation or because they never lived together, one parent may voluntarily, or by court order, financially support their child or children. The amount of child support that a parent is ordered to pay depends on several factors, including the parent's income and the child's needs. In cases where parents divorce, child support is almost always a subject addressed in the divorce settlement. Parents may come to an agreement regarding child support on their own, or a judge may decide how much child support a parent owes the other.


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Visitation and Parenting Time

In situations where parents live apart, they may either informally, or through a court process, come to an agreement about how much time their children spend with each parent. While this arrangement is often known as "child visitation" based on the assumption that a child would be "visiting" her noncustodial parent, many courts now use the term "parenting time" to describe the division of physical custody between parents. While many parents who do not have full-time physical custody of their children also pay child support, the courts treat matters of visitation/parenting time and child support as separate issues. It is possible for a parent to be ordered by the court to pay child support and have no visitation, just as it is possible for the court to award visitation without any obligation by the parent to pay child support.


Consequences for Failure to Pay Child Support

Judges and lawmakers take a dim view of parents who fail to meet their court-ordered child support obligations. If a parent falls behind on child support, he may be required to appear before a judge and explain why. In cases where a parent is seriously behind on child support, the courts may order his wages garnished and he may lose his driver's or professional licenses. He may even go to jail. However, simply failing to pay child support does not mean that he forfeits his right to spend time with his children, providing that a court granted him visitation rights.


Why Self-Help is a Bad Idea

Sometimes, a mother decides to deny her children's father access to his children, even during normal visitation days, in retaliation for his failure to pay child support. While the frustration of the mother in this situation is understandable, her actions are also illegal. Just as failure to pay child support can result in significant civil and criminal penalties for a parent, so can interference with parenting time. If your child's father is late in making child support payments, contact your lawyer or the child support agency in your state for assistance in getting what you are owed. Don't compound the issue, creating even more stress for your children, by preventing your child's father from exercising his visitation rights.