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I provide experienced legal guidance in family law, divorce and special education law. I represent parents and families throughout western Massachusetts.

What penalties do parents face for delinquent child support?

Divorce can have many negative effects on families, but one of the worst comes from the failure of a non-custodial parent of a minor child to pay court-ordered child support. Under Massachusetts law, payments must be regular, paid on time and in the full amount. The majority of non-custodial parents meet this obligation, but for those who do not the state can enact penalties in a variety of ways. For continual and persistent violations, criminal charges may apply, but one of the most common and effective civil punishments is the addition of penalty interest on unpaid child support payments.

How does penalty interest work? The state Department of Revenue will impose interest on unpaid support payments at the rate of 0.5 percent on existing balances due in addition to a penalty of 0.5 percent every month. The monthly interest rate on unpaid support was lowered in July 2010 from 1 percent to 0.5 percent following several cases in which non-custodial parents were penalized even though they had legitimate reasons for not paying support on time and were not dodging their responsibilities. Unfortunately, for those who were ordered to pay support before July of 2010, the 1 percent penalty remains in effect.

Who is liable for interest penalties? Any non-custodial parent who has defaulted in child support payments to $500 or more is liable. Exceptions can be made in cases in which the minimum due amount has already been paid by the defaulting payer.

What can a non-custodial parent do if child support payments are creating financial hardship? The non-custodial parent may be able to petition for a modification of the court-ordered child support order. Because unpaid child support payments are seen as both violations of court order and financial defaults, a parent who has legitimate need may be able to seek a modification.

Source: MASS.gov, "Interest and penalties - parents who pay support," Accessed June 1, 2015

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