When You Can't Afford Child Support Payments

Get Help in Your State

Hispanic woman paying bills online with laptop
Blend Images - Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The child support system is designed to provide children with the financial support they need to thrive. Yet the system is flawed and often assigns more penalties to parents that they, quite literally, can afford to pay. Here's what to do when you're the one screaming "Help! I can't afford child support payments. What should I do?"

Help for Parents Who Can't Afford Child Support Payments

The media pays a lot of attention to 'deadbeat parents.' Yet, not everyone who can not afford to pay child support is withholding child support out of spite or neglect. Often, parents fail to pay child support because they can not afford the premiums. For instance, the following email was sent by a mom who is unable to pay child support payments on time and isn't sure where to turn.

I am a parent who pays child support for one child and have three children at home to support and one in college. Because I live out of state, the court decided the maximum for me to pay and did not consider my other children.

I am currently disabled and have no income. Meanwhile, child support payments are still due, even while I am not able to work. How do I make it with little or no finances?

~Angela W.

Unfortunately, this mom's situation is not uncommon. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7,256,000 custodial parents were due child support. However, only 3,290,000 (or 45.3%) received the full amount. That means that there are many, many non-custodial parents who are unable to pay their child support dues in full. In cases like yours, there is a valid underlying reason which calls for the re-examination of the child support order.

What Should You Do?

First, contact the Child Support Enforcement Office in the state where the child support order was issued. What you'll need to do is file a formal motion requesting a modification due to changed circumstances.


The amount of child support you owe was originally determined using your income and financial reports provided at that time. However, as we know, circumstances do change. In fact, this can happen many times over the years that you are paying child support.

Keep in mind that it is far better to request a modification due to changed circumstances than to fail to pay child support.

What Are Changed Circumstances?

Either parent can request a modification due to changed circumstances. Examples of circumstances which may necessitate a change in the child support order include:

  • Changes in income
  • Unemployment
  • Medical expenses
  • Additional costs associated with raising the child as he or she grows

What Else Do You Need to Know?

Please note that it is crucial, for your own protection, to have the order formally modified by the court. Avoid entering into a non-binding oral agreement, which could fail to be recognized by the courts during a future dispute over the amount of money that is owed.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources