Virginia child support laws impose an obligation on both parents to support their child. The obligation does not end when parents who are married to each other separate or get a divorce or when unmarried couples no longer live together. Judges issue child support orders as part of divorce proceedings or when a petition is filed in a child custody or child support case. When the parent ordered to pay fails to do so, the other parent has several remedies, including requesting Virginia child support penalties. Additional remedies may be available when the non-paying parent is in the military.
Enforcing Virginia Child Support Laws
Agreements made between parents regarding child support cannot be enforced in the courts through Virginia child support penalties without a court order directing that payment be made. Support orders may be enforced through the courts or they may be enforced through the administrative remedies of the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement.
DCSE is authorized to collect child support payments from parents and enforce support orders when parents stop paying. The DCSE uses several administrative penalties to enforce child support orders, including:
- Wage withholding: A wage withholding order directs an employer to withhold the amount of child support from the wages of parents who fail to pay. The money withheld is sent to the DCSE and forwarded by it to the parent entitled to receive it.
- Intercept state and federal income tax refunds: A parent who falls behind in making support payments may have their income tax refunds intercepted and applied toward the unpaid support. This procedure also applies to parents lucky enough to win a lottery prize in the commonwealth but unlucky enough to have the prize money intercepted and applied toward payment of their child support arrears.
- Driver’s license suspension: The commonwealth has the power to suspend the driver’s license of parents who fail to meet their support obligations. Restoration of driving privileges is subject to payment of the arrears.
- Property liens and executions: A lien for child support arrears may be placed against title to real or personal property owned by the parent in default. DCSE may also seize assets of a parent through a property execution to pay what is owed.
If a parent who fails to pay according to a child support order receives Social Security disability benefits, courts have the authority to apply them toward the arrears. Something that parents ordered to pay support should keep in mind is that arrears cannot be discharged as a debt in a bankruptcy proceeding.
Putting a Non-paying Parent in Jail
Use of incarceration as a penalty for non-payment of child support can be counterproductive so courts in Newport News or other Hampton Road communities limit its use. Courts distinguish between an inability to pay and a willful refusal to pay. It would be unfair to impose Virginia child support penalties on a parent whose lack of education makes it difficult to find a new job after a layoff at work. Throwing that person in jail makes it impossible for the person to pay the support while incarcerated.
Holding a parent in contempt of court and putting the person in jail for resigning from a job for no reason other than to avoid paying child support may be justified. In addition to charging parents with civil contempt for willfully refusing to pay child support, they can also be charged with committing a criminal offense.