There is no universal grace period, or set number weeks or months you can go without paying before the law begins pursuing you for child support. State law, not federal law, governs child support, so depending on where you live, you might have more time than other parents. Some collection methods begin sooner than others.
A method commonly used by states to encourage parents to pay past due child support, or child support “arrears,” is to report them to credit bureaus. This blemishes their credit and prevents them from securing new loans. Nebraska will do this as soon as you fall $500 behind. Oklahoma and Vermont will wait until your arrears reach $1,000. How soon you might risk this penalty depends not only on the laws in your particular state, but on the amount of your regular child support payment. For example, if your obligation is $250 a week, you risk credit reporting in Nebraska after only two weeks. In other states, you might have a month.
Many states will begin charging interest on your unpaid child support balance after a certain period of time. The exact amount of time depends on state law. Illinois will begin charging 9 percent interest when a parent is 30 days in arrears. However, in other states, parents don't have this long. In North Dakota, interest begins accruing on the first day of the next month after the support was due. For example, if you have any unpaid balance on January 31, you’ll begin paying interest at the rate of 6.5 percent the next day in North Dakota, on February 1.
Tax Refund Interception
Parents who are past due on their support obligations also run the risk of having their tax refunds intercepted to satisfy their arrears. Interception of your state tax refund would depend on the laws of your particular state. The federal government gets involved with the interception of IRS refunds. Under federal law, your past due balance can be seized from your IRS refund when it reaches $500. If your child’s other parent receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, you can only fall $150 behind. Most state guidelines mirror IRS rules, but some are more lenient. For example, Nebraska won’t take your state tax refund until you are both $500 in arrears and at least three months behind.
Some states have special provisions for members of the United States military when they’re called away on active duty. In Oklahoma, active duty service members receive a child support grace period of two months. Most states require that all child support payments go through their collection units so the government can keep track of arrears. However, others may allow you to pay support directly to your child’s other parent. In this case, the state can’t monitor your delinquency and begin collection efforts against you until your ex notifies the court that you’ve fallen behind. She would do this by filing an enforcement motion against you, so you’d have as much time to catch up as it takes her to file.
Your child support obligation is not necessarily a permanent thing if you’ve suffered a significant change of circumstance that prevents you from paying it. You have the right to file a motion with the court, just as your ex does if you fall behind. You can ask the court to reduce your payments or for other consideration to allow you to catch up. The sooner you do this, the less likely it becomes that your state will begin taking enforcement measures against you.