Child support and child custody: Don't confuse the issue

Child support and custody are intertwined issues in a lot of ways -- but there's one important way that they never overlap.

A parent's failure to pay child support never reflects on his or her right to visit a child.

Unfortunately, a lot of parents misunderstand the relationship between these two things. That can lead to a lot of legal problems down the line and unexpected heartbreak once a judge gets involved.

Why the failure to pay child support doesn't matter

Child support is an obligation. Parents are supposed to financially support their children. If they don't meet their obligation, the court can impose a variety of penalties to encourage them to pay.

Visitation, however, is a parental right. Parents do not have to make payments in the form of child support to gain this privilege.

The court takes a very dim view of the situation when the parent with physical custody tries to limit or deny visitation with a child because the other parent hasn't met his or her support obligation.

Essentially, the court could (and most likely would) see that as an attempt to use the child and the other parent's love for that child as a form of manipulation or leverage. You could face contempt of court charges or even a change in custody as a result.

What you can do instead to enforce a support order

So, how should you handle it when your ex won't pay support?

You can ask the court to intervene through an enforcement action. An attorney from the court can meet with the parent who owes support and try to make payment arrangements.

If that fails, there are other options, including garnishing his or her wages. If the non-paying parent owns a business, his or her assets can be seized or the business license can be suspended until payments start. Professional licenses can also be suspended. If all that isn't enough, the non-paying parent's driver's license can be revoked and he or she can be jailed.

Because the goal is to get the support paid, the court usually starts off with a minimal response and works up to more severe penalties.

The important thing to remember here is this: Don't take the issue of non-payment of child support into your own hands. Let the courts handle it.

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