Family Law | Unpaid Child Support in Minnesota Can Lead to a Variety of Harmful Consequences

A recent case out of Hennepin County, Minnesota raised eyebrows when a man avoided jail time for failure to pay $83,470 in child support payments. Under Minnesota law, a person who fails to "care and support" his or her children may face felony charges, depending on the amount owed and years unpaid.

The case arose when one man failed to pay child support for 11 years totaling $83,470. He was convicted of a felony in 2011 under Minnesota law that makes failing to "care and support" a child a crime. The man appealed, claiming that during the trial there was no proof that he did not care for the children, rather that he simply didn't pay child support.

Ultimately, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed that this law was vague, as it is not clear that "care and support" only means financial support. Absent proof that the father did not "care and support" his child in some other way, the court overturned his conviction.

Criminal proceedings generally follow civil remedies to obtain child support. Wage garnishment (taking money directly from a paycheck) and holding the non-paying parent in contempt of court are usually the first step in attempting to collect unpaid child support.

If a parent fails to pay court-ordered child support payments, child support offices across the state have several methods to collect payments:

  • Requiring employers to report new hires to match their names with parents behind on child support payments, then garnishing their wages
  • Taking money from federal and state tax refunds
  • Billing the non-custodial parent for child support
  • Reporting unpaid child support to credit bureaus
  • Issuing license suspension, including driver's license and professional licenses
  • Obtaining a contempt of court order, which could lead to the non-paying parent having to go to jail
  • Issuing public notices online and in other media regarding parents with child support in arrears

For non-custodial parents who are simply unable to pay child support payments, it is possible to modify a child support obligation. Job loss, medical issues and other valid reasons may make a modification appropriate. However, the non-custodial parent must request a support modification from the court. A failure to pay an existing obligation can bring late fees and interest, which adds up quickly.

An attorney can help

Child support can be a contentious issue. Non-payment of legitimate child support can harm families. However, if an obligor spouse (the spouse who must pay child support) cannot afford child support, the consequences can be dire and lead to a variety of harmful consequences.