Because every child is different, every child custody and child support dispute in the State of Washington is unique. A Washington State parent who is involved in one of these disputes will need personalized legal advice and representation from a Washington family law attorney.

In the State of Washington, every child has the absolute legal right to financial support from both parents. The law requires parents to provide adequate child support until a child turns age 18 – or, if the child is attending school, until the child completes the twelfth grade or turns age 19.

How Many Parents Fail to Pay Child Support?

However, many parents are failing to support their children. According to CBS News in 2019, more than thirty percent of court-ordered child support payments in the United States are not made, and fewer than half of all court-ordered child support payments are paid in full.

When parents get divorced in the State of Washington, the non-custodial parent is usually ordered by the court to make child support payments to the custodial parent, and the non-custodial parent is also usually granted visitation rights.

But what if the non-custodial parent falls behind on child support payments, or simply refuses to pay? Can the custodial parent withhold visitations from the non-custodial parent? What is a parent’s recourse? Keep reading for the answers that many Washington State parents may need.

What Does a Parenting Plan Include?

A parenting plan and a child support arrangement are typically part of a final divorce decree. The parenting plan spells out, in writing, each parent’s responsibilities and rights. It should include the court’s custody determination and a visitation schedule.

When custody, a child support arrangement, and a visitation schedule have been established by a court order, that order constitutes an agreement with which each parent is legally bound to comply.

If you’re a divorced parent, and you are not receiving the child support payments that the court has ordered, you may be frustrated, even angry, and that’s understandable. But you can’t act out of frustration or anger by withholding visitations. That puts you in violation of the court’s order.

What Can Happen If You Withhold Visitations?

Not only is there no guarantee that withholding visitations will produce the child support payments that you need, but withholding visitations will work against you. If you’re not receiving the child support that the court has ordered, speak with a family law attorney first.

Visitations and child support payments are considered as separate issues by the courts, so a failure to pay child support has no legal impact on a parent’s visitation arrangements. Before you withhold visitations for child support that hasn’t been paid, consider these facts:

1. Time with each parent is a child’s right. If a parent hasn’t paid child support, the child is not the one who should be penalized. Researchers insist that children are almost always healthier and happier when they have meaningful relationships with both parents.

2. Financial support is each parent’s responsibility. When child support payments have been ordered by the court, it is the court’s job – and not the other parent’s – to decide on and impose penalties for any failure to make the payments.

Are You Concerned for Your Child’s Safety?

If you are legitimately concerned about your child’s safety in the presence of the other parent, there are steps you can take, but that is separate from the issue of child support. Speak to a family law attorney if you believe that visitations need to be supervised or stopped.

Failing to pay child support usually is not enough for the court to order limited or supervised visitations. The court usually takes such action only if a parent has been abusive or is involved with illegal drug use, criminal activity, or alcohol abuse or addiction.

In such cases, a Washington State family law attorney can explain to you what steps must be taken to protect your child or children and to limit or terminate the other parent’s visitation rights.

How Do the Courts Enforce Child Support Orders?

But if you are not receiving child support payments, your attorney will recommend other remedies. A parent who fails to pay court-ordered child support is in violation of a court order, and your attorney can ask the court to enforce its order on your behalf.

If your child’s other parent has become a “deadbeat” parent, or if for any other reason you are not receiving the child support payments ordered by the court, arrange to meet with a Washington family lawyer, let the court handle it, and do not take matters into your own hands.

A parent who refuses to pay child support can have his or her wages garnished, tax refunds intercepted, and face other legal and financial penalties – including going to jail for contempt of court.

If You Are the Non-Custodial Parent

If you are the non-custodial parent and your visitations with your child or children are consistently being withheld, do not stop paying child support. Instead, take the matter to a Washington family law attorney who can ask the court to enforce your visitation rights.

In these types of cases in the State of Washington, the court makes the best interests of the child or children its number one priority. In most cases, as mentioned previously, having time with – and financial support from – both parents is considered to be in a child’s best interests.

Can You Have a Court Order Changed?

The court will not change or “modify” a child support order or a parenting arrangement for a trivial reason. The modification of a child support or custody order will be granted only when a substantial change has occurred. Such changes include but are not limited to:

1. One or both parents have become unemployed or have had a change of income.
2. One parent seeks to relocate with the child or children.
3. One parent has been convicted of a crime and is serving jail or prison time.
4. The needs of the child or children have changed.
5. One parent marries a new partner or has a child with another partner.

Don’t Act on Your Own – Seek an Attorney’s Help

If your ex is in violation of a court order regarding child support, do not try to make arrangements with your ex or take action on your own. Unofficial private agreements, as well as your own actions, have no legal weight, rarely work, and cannot be enforced.

As a parent, your children’s best interests should be your highest priority. If you are not receiving the child support you need, or if you are not being allowed visitations, the court will need to act on your behalf, and you will need a good family lawyer’s help.