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What is the “Deadbeat Dad Law” and How Does it Affect Me?

Michael Tierney
December 8, 2022

Children are the demographic that requires some of the greatest attention when legal matters arise. Children receive this special attention because they cannot effectively represent their own interests or remain aware of their rights. The protection of children's interests is usually upheld by the adults that are present in their lives. This includes parents, guardians, teachers, or adults with a modicum of responsibility for a child's wellbeing.

This has led to several state and federal laws being ratified to ensure legally enforceable protections for children. These laws can relate directly to a child's situation or focus on regulating the adults around them to protect the children further. Some of these laws are specifically tailored to certain adults in a child's life.

One of the more prominent laws in place is the "deadbeat dad law" enforced by the federal government and, to a lesser extent, state agencies. This law usually only applies to certain situations and will not be relevant to others, but it remains one of the most important laws.

Solution The "deadbeat dad" law has effectively criminalized negligent behavior from certain parents. However, it is also somewhat confusing legislation.

Not everyone knows what the "deadbeat dad" law entails or whether it applies to them. Without this knowledge, you might fail to act within the bounds of the law or assume you must when you are exempt.

What is the "Deadbeat Dad" Law?

The "deadbeat dad" law, as catchy as the name is, is a misnomer since it applies to all parents, not just fathers.

Solution The "deadbeat dad" law is a colloquialism for the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act. The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act was signed into law in 1998 by former president Bill Clinton to help enforce child support payments.

Child support payments are a consistent point of contention for couples getting divorced or who have divorced already. The non-custodial parent always pays child support to the custodial parent to provide financial resources for the child. It is illegal for the non-custodial parent to shirk these payments, and it can lead to loss of visitation rights or other sanctions. The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act was ratified to help punish parents who fail to meet their financial obligations to their children following divorce.

Father and Child

The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act has turned failure to pay child support payments into a federal crime that is punished based on what is owed. A parent who has failed to fulfill their child support payments for more than 1 year or owes more than $5,000.00 in support payments is in violation. Parents with the minimum violation could face a maximum of 6 months in jail and a fine.

The law also states that parents who have failed to meet their obligations for more than 2 years or owe more than $10,000.00 in payments risk 2 years in jail and a larger fine. Additionally, parents who attempt to flee the state to avoid their support payments are automatically elevated to the second punishment bracket.

In addition to the federal punishments, the guilty parent is obligated to pay their overdue child support payments retroactively. The Deadbeat Parents Act was created to ensure no parent could shirk their responsibilities and face the appropriate punishments. While this is meant to be as much a deterrent as a punishment, some parents continue to avoid their obligations. The question you might have is whether the Deadbeat Parents Act affects you in any way.

Does the "Deadbeat Dad" Law Affect You?

The question of whether the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act applies to you is fairly simple. If you have a child with an ex-spouse and they are the custodial parent, you likely owe child support per the divorce agreement.

Solution The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act applies to you if you are expected to make regular child support payments. However, you will only be subjected to the law if you fail to meet your expected payment schedule.

Parent Calling About Child Support

If you are always on time with your payments, you will not face the punishments outlined in the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act. Ultimately, this means that the law does affect you regardless of your marriage's status but will only come into effect if you get divorced and are expected to pay child support.

While this might seem unlikely, divorce affects 50% of all marriages in the country, and all marriages that have produced children are subject to child support payment agreements. Child support is always expected in these cases without fail, though the rates might vary depending on the circumstances. If you are going through a divorce and are concerned about child support payments, it might be worth understanding how the payments are calculated.

How is Child Support Calculated?

Child support payments are paid to a specific parent, and it is not the custodial parent who determines the amount they receive. Child support payments are calculated by the judge overseeing the divorce proceedings. This means the judge uses several factors to determine a fair amount of child support the non-custodial parent must pay. This way, there is no risk that one parent is forced to pay more or less than is necessary to support the child.

When calculating child support payments, judges must consider the annual incomes of each parent. It is common for one spouse to make more than the other in modern marriages, given the disparate career paths available.

After a divorce, one parent is expected to provide for the child full-time while the other provides occasional contributions. That is part of why child support payments are so important. While child support is mandatory despite the financial standing of the parents, a lower-income parent is not expected to pay as much.

The parent with the higher income will generally be able to provide for the child regardless of support payments, making the support a backup source of resources. So, if you are going through a divorce and you make substantially less than the custodial parent, your child support payments will likely be lower than initially anticipated.

While the income brackets of the parents are one of the most important variables in child support calculations, there are others. These variables help the judge determine what other details might affect the custodial parent's ability to support the child.

Custodial Parent Calculating Child Support

These include:

  • Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent receives spousal or child support payments from a previous marriage.
  • Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent pays spousal or child support payments for a previous marriage.
  • Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent is responsible for a child from a previous marriage.
  • Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent is responsible for paying for the family's health insurance.
  • Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent is responsible for paying for the child's daycare costs.
  • Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent is actively paying union dues or has funds deducted from their paycheck.
  • The ages of the children.
  • Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent receives irregular income such as bonuses, severance pay, commissions, or other lump-sum payments.
  • Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent is living with a new partner or spouse that contributes to daily expenses.

These details affect the total child support the non-custodial parent is expected to pay. While most people believe the custodial parent's financial situation is most important to the child support calculations, the non-custodial parent's situation is equally important. Both parents retain their rights to live within the quality of life they enjoyed before the divorce. Therefore, it is considered unfair to force them to pay more than they can afford.

Ultimately, child support payments must be respectful of the needs of both parents while focusing on what is needed to support the child. Typically, the payments only expect the non-custodial parent to pay what they would have contributed while still married to their ex-spouse.

Despite the calculations being designed to be as fair as possible, child support payments are not always sustainable. Sometimes, the payments can become overwhelming, and the non-custodial parent cannot continue making the payments as expected. This begs the question of whether the parents can alter a child support agreement to reflect the current situation.

Can Child Support Arrangements Be Adjusted?

You must pay the full support amount within the set schedule to remain compliant with child support payments. Otherwise, the non-custodial parent is considered delinquent in their payments and is subject to the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act. While some parents actively avoid child support payments out of spite or disinterest, others cannot keep up with what they owe.

While the initial agreement was drawn up to ensure the non-custodial parent has the financial means to meet their child support payments, situations change. Sometimes, we face financial hardship or the circumstances of the child change to a point where the original payment structure is no longer sustainable. This has led to some looking into having their existing child support arrangements altered to suit the new situation.

The good news is that it is possible to adjust child support arrangements to ensure the non-custodial parent is not financially devastated by the payments. The bad news is that the process is not simple, and most judges will want abundant evidence to justify the change. Additionally, the reason for the change must be appropriate and not because the non-custodial parent wants to buy a new sports car.

Child Support Payment

The non-custodial parent must prove that the circumstances have changed and that the change was:

  • Unanticipated
  • Involuntary
  • Substantial

A judge will automatically consider a handful of reasons appropriate for a child support modification. These include:

  • Income Reduction: If the non-custodial parent has their income drastically reduced or is terminated from their position, the payments can be reduced.
  • Income Increase: If the custodial parent's income drastically increases, the support payments can be decreased.
  • Number of Children: If the custodial parent has a new child with a new partner, that new partner usually contributes more to childcare. As a result, the non-custodial parent can request a child support reduction since this new partner is helping provide for the children. Conversely, the custodial parent can request an increase when the non-custodial parent's child from another marriage is no longer dependent on them.
  • Child's Needs: The life of a child is constantly changing, and their medical, educational, and physical needs can radically change in a short time. When this occurs, the custodial parent might be subjected to higher costs to keep up with these new needs. As a result, they can petition for increased child support from the non-custodial parent to ensure they have the resources to accommodate the child's needs.

Ultimately, altering a child support agreement is not going to be easy and requires extenuating circumstances to execute. The support agreement usually lasts until the child is fully grown unless one of the above criteria is met. It is important to note that failing to request an adjustment before payment is due might still cause you to violate the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act.

Learn the Law

Child support is one of the most important parts of divorce and leads to some of the most heated negotiations. While child support is inescapable, the rates will usually be calculated with the means of both parents in mind. If you truly cannot keep up with the payments due to a change in circumstances, it might be possible to change the agreement; otherwise, you must remain up to date with your payments.

Failure to do so will put you in violation of the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act. The only true way to avoid child support payments is to be the custodial parent, which can be tricky since most custody arrangements favor the mother over the father. However, the decision is always based on what is best for the child and should not be used to avoid support obligations.

Civil Claims Court

Unfortunately, child support payments are not the only important detail when dealing with divorce proceedings. Divorce is one of the most complicated civil claims in the world and can be almost impossible to navigate without information. If you want the best chance of earning custody of your child, you should consider reading up on divorce so you can be prepared for any situation.

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Written By:
Michael Tierney

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