Does Paying Extra in Child Support Mean You Can Pay Less Later

Having to make child support payments every month can be a hassle. So why not just pay the entire amount now and be done with it? It may sound like a good idea to pay off a child support obligation, but individuals might want to consider how the legal system in California views child support and lump sum payments before making their decision.

Unlike other types of fixed monthly expenses, child support payments represent an ongoing obligation that can be modified at any time before a child becomes an adult. Thus parents have a duty to provide continuous financial support over a fixed period of time. 

Child Support Orders and Making Payments

Child support becomes a legally enforceable obligation after a support order has been issued. California courts follow a state-wide guideline when determining the amount of child support a parent must pay. The California Child Support Guideline Calculator uses various income and expense data of the parents and children to arrive at a standardized amount that should be paid. The guideline is presumed to be correct, and judges rarely order child support payments for amounts outside the guideline. 

Parents can decide and agree on an amount of child support, but the agreement must be approved by a judge before it will become enforceable. Parents can improve their chances of having their child support agreement become an order by using the California guideline to arrive at the support payment amount. 

All child support payments are processed through the California State Disbursement Unit, which is also responsible for collecting the payments from those obligated to pay. To help avoid the problem of nonpayment, a judge will usually order child support payments to be deducted from the responsible parent’s wages each month. The state involvement and ongoing monthly obligation might inspire some parents to investigate alternate solutions for making child support payments.

What Happens if You Make a Lump Sum Child Support Payment?

There are no California laws saying a person cannot make a lump sum payment of child support instead of making a payment every month. Parents may agree that a certain sum paid now will cover payments scheduled to be made in the future. But just because parents may agree, this doesn’t mean a court will honor what the parents have decided between themselves. A judge has the final say and will always factor in the best interests of the child or children involved. So it’s usually best to get court approval before making changes to a court-ordered payment plan. 

Advance Payments Won’t Prevent Modification of Child Support Payment Orders

Either parent or the legal guardian of a child can request a ‘modification’ of the court-ordered child support payments at any time there has been a qualifying change in circumstances. The fact that a child support payor may have made a previous lump sum payment will not affect a judge’s ability to change the terms of a child support order to increase a support obligation.

Some factors that could cause child support payments to be increased include:

  • Increased income of the paying parent
  • Increased custody by the non-paying parent
  • Decreased income of the non-paying parent
  • Additional expenses for the children
  • Disability of the non-paying parent

Failure to Pay Child Support Can Have Serious Consequences

If child support payments are increased, the paying parent will have little choice but to comply with the new court order – no matter how much previous child support has been paid. Providing financial support for children is a parental duty the state of California takes quite seriously. 

The penalties for failing to pay child support can result in legal consequences that affect many areas of a person’s life. Failure to make child support payments when they are due can lead to the following legal actions:

  • Misdemeanor criminal charges – a fine up to $2,000 and up to 12 months in jail
  • Suspension or revocation of driver’s license
  • Reports to collection agencies – affecting credit ratings
  • Inability to obtain or renew a passport
  • Interest accruing at a rate of 10% annually on the unpaid balance 

Is There any Way to End Child Support Payments Early?

Child support is typically ordered until a child turns 18 if the child has graduated from high school. If an 18-year-old child is still in school full-time and living with a parent, the support obligation runs until the child graduates from high school or turns 19 – whichever occurs first. Child support may be extended for disabled adult children who are unable to provide for themselves.

However, there are some events that will terminate a support obligation before age 18 if the child: 

  • Marries or registers a domestic partnership
  • Joins the military
  • Becomes emancipated
  • Dies

Why Lump Sum Child Support Payments are Generally not Recommended?

Child support payments are not just some other debt that can be paid off early to avoid the inconvenience of making monthly payments. Child support promotes the welfare of children and California is going to do its best to make sure parents provide as much or more for their children as they do for themselves. So no one should expect a court to consider financial fairness as it relates to one or the other parent who may have made a past lump sum payment. The court’s goal is to make sure the children are getting what they need until they become adults. 

A parent’s responsibility is ongoing, and child support orders can always be modified when circumstances change. There is no guarantee the previous payments will be considered for future obligations. A California family law court will always prioritize the best interests of the children when making child support modification decisions.

If a parent paying child support is interested in making a lump sum support payment, consulting an experienced family law attorney and getting court approval of the new payment arrangement are ways to ensure payments are recognized and applied toward the obligation owed.

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