By: Robert Legge
The law does not consider child support and visitation in the same way.
Child support and visitation cases are some of the most contentious issues the courts face. As opposed to most cases, CS/V cases are usually ongoing. Either parent can petition the court to review and possibly amend the order as circumstances change. Examples being increased income, unemployment, sudden high medical bills or increased expenses for the child/children.
Such circumstances are constantly changing in many families so it is no surprise that one parent might ask the court to have those changed circumstances reflected in the order. It used to be difficult to collect from a deadbeat parent if they moved to another state. But now the Federal Uniform Interstate Family Support Act makes it easier to collect from such non-custodial parents, although each state uses different payment guidelines.
While the main reason for most non-payment of child support is inability to pay, second on the list is protest of visitation privileges. Non-custodial parents with good relationships with the children are more likely to be making their regular child support payments
Visitation arrangements can become quite complicated and often contentious. Issues involving things as simple as clothing can cause conflicts. Pick ups and drop offs may need to be highly choreographed sometimes involving a third party. But if agreements are worked out in advance, things can run relatively smoothly.
The court recognizes that parents may not always be able to continue to live together under one roof. If they can’t amicably agree on custodial arrangements, the court must be called upon to do that, considering a myriad of circumstances, but with the key element of always trying to focus on what is in the child/children’s best interests for their safety and well-being.
What follows is a specific legal question and answer session with attorney Deborah Reed:
Q: My child’s father was ordered to pay child support and was also ordered to have visitation every other weekend and one evening a week, holidays, etc. He is not paying the child support and has a significant arrearage. Can I deny his visitation until he pays his child support? I don’t think it’s fair that he has visitation, but doesn’t pay his obligation. What can I do?
A: The law does not consider child support and visitation in the same way. If he is not paying child support you can file a “show cause” petition with the court to have the court hear the evidence about his non-payment and make a ruling regarding his payments and how he must pay his arrears.You can do this on your own or, if you have not done this before, you can sign up for assistance in collecting child support through the Department of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) by filing with DSS (Department of Social Services).
The Department can not only file show cause petitions, but can also file for other relief, like asking the court to revoke his drivers’ license, his hunting license, ask that he be incarcerated, and, of course, seeking collection by garnishment through his employer. It can take the department several weeks to set up the file and begin the garnishment, but once started, the monies come in regularly and collection enforcement has the benefits to collection as listed above.
Visitation is a separate issue and if he is visiting regularly with the children, that is in itself a benefit to the children. Though it doesn’t seem fair, it is in the children’s best interests. Good luck with enforcing the child support!