September 22, 2015 By Paul Wallin
Child support debts
Many Californians today are struggling to pay off their child support debts.

The amount of child support payments that is past due in California is quite staggering. In 2003, the number was $14.4 billion.1 By 2011, that amount rose to a near-record $19.2 billion.2

Child support delinquency is not an issue confined to California, either. In 2010, nationwide unpaid child support reached more than $110 billion.3 This staggering amount has serious affects on children, custodial parents, and the workforce participation of the noncustodial parents who are often struggling to keep up with their payment schedules.4

Some states, however, are working to try to alleviate this problem. New Mexico and Oklahoma, for example, have recently enacted amnesty programs that give parents the chance to pay off their outstanding debts or renegotiate their payment plans without fear of arrest.

With California’s unpaid child support accounting for nearly 18% of the nation’s total, it may be time to start looking at what other states are doing for possible solutions.

What Happens When You Fail to Pay?

When you fall behind on your child support payments, this debt becomes “arrears”, a legal term describing its overdue status. Once you have child support arrears, you face a number of consequences. These can include:

  • Wage and paycheck garnishing;
  • Revocation of your driver’s license;
  • Penalties increasing your monthly payments; and
  • Potential criminal charges

In California, a warrant could be issued for your arrest if you fail to make your child support payments.5 These penalties create substantial barriers to making monthly payments, and facing a possible arrest can make it difficult to approach the child support office for help.

This is why Oklahoma and New Mexico (both of which classify failure to pay child support as a felony) are allowing parents who are behind on their child support payments to negotiate a payment plan or simply pay off their outstanding debt without fear of being arrested.6 To qualify, noncustodial parents must be behind on their payments, and have a bench warrant out for their arrest.7

The hope is that the programs will spur payment of arrears as well as give those participating a chance to make good on their commitments to their children, all while giving noncustodial parents an opportunity to avoid arrest.

Is Child Support Amnesty a Good Idea for California?

A failure to pay child support in California could eventually lead to a bench warrant for your arrest. California classifies nonpayment of child support as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in county jail, a $2,000 fine, or both.8 While this penalty is substantially less than that of other states who have implemented amnesty programs, facing any jail time may make parents hesitant to approach their local child support office.

Along with this, California has one of the highest interest rates for arrears of any state in the country; a fact which many experts say is one of the reasons that California has such a high rate of outstanding child support debt.9

Tell Us What You Think

Could a child support amnesty program incentivize Californians to make good on their child support debt? Or should parents with child support arrears be punished to the full extent of the law? Let us know if you think California should follow the lead of other states in an effort to provide relief from past due child support, and the penalties which come with it. Please comment with your thoughts in the section below.




4. Id.




8. Id.

9. Id.

1 comment

  1. Yes. I think a Amnesty for child support should be in effect here in California. I am a Non Custodian male parent for years now. I’m in my mid 40’s and I am still dealing with this issue with one adult child that I’m still paying rears on. I myself would like to see this on billboards so the public can know that someone does care to help the Non Custodian parent typically the Father.

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