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How much trouble can a parent be in for not paying child support?

In a perfect world, both parents would be involved in raising a child, even if they are separated or divorced. That includes financial support as well. Even if an ex rarely or never sees the children, he or she should be legally obligated to provide child support.

In fact, the child support agreement that the judge signs includes an order to pay, to abide by the terms of the agreement. Failure to comply with any court order can get you in trouble, and this is no different.

Now, family law matters -- marriage, divorce, child support and custody -- are generally handled at the state level. Residency requirements for divorce, for example, may differ between Minnesota and a state with a much warmer climate. A woman filing for divorce will follow the laws of the state where she resides, and "residence" is defined by statute.

That being said, you would think that nonpayment of child support would be left solely to the states, too. In Minnesota, nonpayment can result in a suspended driver's license under certain circumstances. The same goes for a professional license -- including the license to practice law. Again, that may not be true in a state without 10,000 lakes.

However, the federal government may also be involved. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the willful failure to pay court-ordered child support under certain circumstances is a federal misdemeanor. Those circumstances include:

  • The paying parent owes more than $5,000;
  • The child lives in another state; or
  • Child support payments are more than one year past due.

A violation may earn a fine and a maximum of six months in prison. It becomes a felony if the parent willfully fails to pay for more than two years or owes more than $10,000. A felony carries even stiffer penalties -- including at least a year in jail.

Raising children as a single parent can be financially and emotionally draining, and losing that extra income can cause real hardship. But there are times, too, when a noncustodial parent simply cannot pay. There is no reason, however, to skip payments or to skip town; it will just make matters worse.

If there is a problem on either end of a child support agreement, the parents can work together or through their attorneys to find a solution. It does not pay to walk away.

Source: Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 518a. Child Support

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