All Pay, No Play: Why do I have to pay child support if I can’t see my kids? (Part 4)

By Jennifer M. Paine

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell, P.C., Detroit office

Note: This is Part 4 of a four-part series on child support. Click here to read Part 1, click here to read Part 2, and click here to read Part 3.

Tips and Tricks for Maximizing Your Time and Your Wallet

What are you to do when your children spend no time with you, yet you drain your wallet to support them? Unfortunately, attorneys hear stories like yours every day. Whether you cannot pay your current amount, you want your parenting time enforced, or both, here are some things you can do.



Motion to Reduce Child Support: If you cannot pay the current amount, consider filing a motion to reduce it. The standards and procedural requirements vary by state, but, in general, parents who genuinely cannot afford to pay (e.g., have lost a job) will receive a reduced amount or a long-term payment plan. Contact an attorney in your area for information about the rules applicable to you.


Three Year Support Review: The 1996 PRWORA requires states receiving federal assistance to review child support orders every three years. In Michigan, where I practice, support payors and payees have a “one time pass” every three years to ask the Friend of the Court to review their current child support order. All they need to do is send a letter to the Friend of the Court to request it. Contact your attorney, or the court or child support administrator for your case if  you do not have one, to find out how your jurisdiction conducts PRWORA reviews. Be cautious, however, because incremental differences may not be enough to modify the current order (in Michigan, we need at least 15% deviation), and you could end up paying more support if your ex- spouse’s income has deceased.


Pay the Right Person: Most states require payors to pay support through the state, along with a processing fee. Some parents pay their children’s custodial parent directly to avoid paying the fee. That is a mistake. Unless and until your order states that you can pay your ex directly, you must pay child support through the state. In most states, the money you pay directly to the other parent will be treated as a “gift,” not child support. Since the appropriate entity (the state) did not receive the money, you wou ld still owe child support. You could even end up paying the full amount  twice. If you would rather pay the parent directly, contact your attorney to learn what the local requirements are for opting out of the state payment system. Most states do allow you to opt out, but generally you cannot have arrears and both parents must agree and/or the court must determine a revised child support order is appropriate. In Michigan, for example, the payor and the payee must agree, the payor must have no arrears, and there must be no threats of domestic violence or signs of “strong-arm” bargaining between the parties before the court will consider an opt-out. When you are allowed to pay the other parent directly, if ever, be sure to make the payments by check so that you have a record of when you wrote the check and whether it cleared your checking account.


Parenting Time Complaint: If you ex-spouse denies your parenting time, research the resources in your area for parenting time and custody enforcement. Many states do not require a court motion before a judge to enforce court orders. Other resources, such as parenting time monitors, counselors, and custody mediators, exist. In Michigan, for example, parents who have missed visitation with their children may file a complaint to request make up time within 56 days of the missed visit. A parenting time counselor will review the complaint and issue an opinion in writing to both parents within 21 days. You should consult with a lawyer in your state to learn about the resources available to you.


Show Cause Motion: If your ex simply refuses to follow your court’s order, consider filing a motion to have your judge hold her in contempt for disobedience. The judge will order her to comply, perhaps with make up parenting time, and you will create a record of your denied time in the event you need to modify the order later. The procedures for these motions vary by jurisdiction, so be sure to contact a lawyer for assistance.


Motion to Modify Custody/Parenting Time: If your ex purposely denies your time, if your children are unhappy or if you suspect something about your current order just does not “work” and a change would be better, consider filing a motion to modify physical custody or parenting time. The standards vary by state. In general, your unhappiness with the order is not enough; you must show a proper cause or change in circumstances since the last order to justify the change. Some states require a higher burden if you are not a joint physical custodian. These motions generally require more time, in and out of court, than the resources mentioned above and thorough preparation. The long- term benefits could be worth the effort, however, if you are legitimately unsatisfied. Be sure to consult a lawyer who practices family law in your state, and schedule an appointment to at least  review your current order and the facts in your case as they apply the law. Do not pinch pennies here. You need a realistic viewpoint if you are going to invest money, time and emotions for a custody motion.


Family Therapy: More often, a child’s resistance to parenting time is a symptom of the hurt he feels inside for his family’s breakdown. The breakdown was hard enough for you; now imagine being a child never exposed to adult emotions and ill-equipped to deal with them. The child will cling to one parent for stability at the other parent’s expense. If you are one of these parents, consider individual, joint and family therapy. Community groups may provide them at low or no cost to you. Therapy will provide the child a controlled, out-of-court environment to let out his emotions. Therapy will also provide you and your ex with resources to deal with parenting time issues that will, inevitably, arise as your child ages.


Whatever you do, do not simply stop paying child support. You will have to invest in your relationship with your children if you want parenting time with them. It is your choice whether to do so as the deadbeat parent or the dedicated one. You do not need a lawyer to know which parent the judge favors.


That is, you will have to keep paying if you ever want to play.


Note: This is Part 4 of a four-part series on child support. Click here to read Part 1, click here to read Part 2, and click here to read Part 3.


Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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4 comments on “All Pay, No Play: Why do I have to pay child support if I can’t see my kids? (Part 4)

    I last had a weekend with my daughter in 2003. I pay child support and he told her that I was dead. Where did my payments go. She has been moved around from state to state just to keep me away. I found her and she isn’t even with her father. What can I do? Now he is wanting all the back pay before she turns 18 in Oct.

    hi my name is ale

    I was wondering how I can go about this not sure what to do ….

    so my boyfriend is on child support by his first baby mother as they aint together anymore and haven’t been for 6+ years . he(my boyfriend) didn’t even know she had gotten pregnant until just 4yrs ago when his son was already 5 . so what I want to know and get clear is that he pay his child support but the mother of his son does not allow him to see nor speak with his son . I recently found out that she told him that he will never she his son again and that she was going to change her phone number so that my boyfriend wont be able to talk to his son . I am not a mother but I don’t think what she is doing is right .. I am not choosing sides I simply don’t believe that she should be holding his son against him and not let him see nor speak with his son . when he actually WANTS to be in his sons life un like her other(5) baby fathers . what can we do from here ??? I need help or can someone guide me to someone that can help me

    i dated a girl for 2 months–I broke up with her because she was rude and money hungry-two weeks after the breakup i found out she was pregnant.I had got back with my ex girlfriend and it made her mad.Her parents and her told me i would never see the child–that they didnt want me in his life.I tried to give monetary support–they refused-telling me to stay away.Five yrs later the guilt over took me i started sending money monthly–then she wanted more–saying i wasnt there for 5 years so i owe them–I paid her parents vacation and continued to pay monthly–I have never seen him in person.I m fed up after she got my debit card and splurged i told her i was done.We both live in Alabama–Im at my wits end.I need help.i can t afford to pay back time.My name is not on birth cerificate.I m 100 percent sure he is mine.

    Hey my name is jeremy j. Kirkling i was locked up for 2/1 years in was put on child support the 2 month of being locked when i came home the state sent me a leter saying i need to pay them 10000 my ex will not let me see my child the last thing my ex said was that my child do not need anything from me or me in here life

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