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What if I can't afford child support?

Divorce is expensive. You pay court fees, lawyer fees, and after the dust settles, your restructured finances can leave you struggling to keep your head above water. If you and your former spouse have children together, you may also be responsible for child support.

Undoubtedly you want best for your children and want to provide them everything they need. But sometimes financial realities make it impossible for you to keep up with your court-assigned child support payments. The media portrays those who don't support their children as stereotypical "deadbeats," but often the reality is much more complicated.

Minnesota child-support basics

In short, child support is money paid to raise a child. This includes support for the child's basic needs as well as medical needs and child care. Child support usually continues until the child is 18 - or until he or she is 20 if still in high school.

If the child lives primarily with one parent, it is the other parent's obligation to pay child support. If the parents share equal or near-equal custody, the parent who earns more money must pay child support to the other parent.

The amount of child support owed is based on a sliding scale that considers both parents combined monthly net income and the number of children who need support. The support guidelines are updated periodically to reflect economic trends.

Penalties for not paying

The state takes failure to pay child support very seriously because it's detrimental to the wellbeing of a child or children. Failure to pay the court-ordered amount of child support can include the following punishments:

· Driver's license suspension, including an occupational license

· A hold preventing the parent from obtaining or renewing a passport

· A levy or seizure of financial assets

· Holds on student grants

· A derogatory mark on one's credit score

· Accumulation of interest on past-due child support

· Garnishment of wages or unemployment checks

· Criminal prosecution

Getting help

If you're unable to make your scheduled child support payments, the first thing you should do is contact your county's child support office. A child-support case worker can help you find solutions that work for you.

Court-ordered child support arrangements can be modified after some life events. Reasons for modification include either parent receiving a substantial increase or decrease in income, unemployment, if a parent or child is granted public assistance, if a child has large unexpected medical expenses, if there is a change in health-care coverage status, or if the child becomes emancipated.

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