I Got Hurt in a Car Accident and Can’t Pay Child Support. What Should I Do?

Hossein Berenji, Sep 09, 2019

A car accident can turn your life upside down. Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may be out of work for a period and this can make it difficult for you to meet basic living expenses, including rent and paying bills. It may also affect your ability to pay court-ordered child support amounts.

Now, in cases where your economic situation changes significantly, you may be able to reduce an existing child support order. However, a support modification does not happen automatically. This means that you are still on the hook to pay your obligation until your paperwork is filed and the court agrees to modification.

Also, if you receive a settlement award from a personal injury lawsuit, a portion of this award may be used in calculating your support amount. Keep in mind that even if you are hurt, your child is still in need of financial assistance.

Changing a Child Support Order

A child support order remains in effect until it is terminated or modified by the court. This means that you remain obligated to pay support until you ask the court to change the order. This is true even if your life situation changes dramatically.

To modify a child support order, you must complete and file a Request for Order and Income and Expense Declaration form. This form is filed with the same court that issued your existing order. Note that a court will only modify a child support order if there has been a “change in circumstances” since the previous order.

The court has several factors to consider in determining whether a change in circumstances has occurred. One factor is whether there has been an increase or decrease in income for one or both parents. Other factors are whether the child is spending more time with one parent, or if one parent has a new child from another relationship.

With that in mind, if you were hurt in a car accident, the key consideration is how this incident impacts your ability to provide financial support. The court would likely be interested in whether you are still able to work and whether your health care costs or other expenses have significantly increased.

Remember, the court will also look at how much time the child is spending with each parent. This means that if you are seeing your child less frequently during your period of recovery, the extra time with the other parent could actually be grounds for increasing your support obligation. The reason behind this rule is that a parent that is caring for a child is presumed to be financially supporting that child.

Penalties for Not Paying Child Support

Now, it’s very important that you continue to make your child support payments after the accident. This is because there are penalties for nonpayment, which can include interest on amounts in arrears. Interest rates are set by law and cannot be modified by the court. For children born after 1983, the rate in California is 7 percent per year.

If you get behind on payments, the court may also order wage garnishment. This process involves taking amounts directly out of your paycheck before it gets to you. The court also has the authority to suspend your driver’s license, as well as any professional licenses you may have. Further, your tax refunds may be intercepted, you could be denied a passport, and your credit score may be impacted.

Personal Injury Settlement and Child Support

If you’re injured in a car accident, it’s important to seek the assistance of an experienced car accident lawyer. You may receive a settlement amount following a personal injury lawsuit as a result of your accident. In California, portions of this damage award that represent lost income may be used to calculate your support obligation. However, portions of the award that are not for lost wages cannot be used. Examples would be payments for your pain and suffering or medical bills.

Note that unlike lottery winnings and tax refunds, personal injury settlements typically are not intercepted by the court to pay past-due child support in California. However, it’s important to correct these arrears as soon as possible to avoid the penalties described above. Because these cases can get complicated, it can be helpful to reach out to a qualified attorney for assistance.