I have an ex wife that I have had no contact with in almost 11 years. I have been paying child support to her for that amount of time. I recently became self employed and my dispensable earnings are not what they used to be. I am being threatened with contempt of a court order for not making full payments.
On top of this I recently found information that the child I have been paying for and have not seen since he was 6 months old does not even live with his mother. The divorce papers state that I have joint physical and legal custody of the child.
What is the steps I should take in this matter?
Until you obtain a revised order from the court, you are obligated to comply with the existing order. Therefore, you should immediately proceed with filing a motion to modify your child support to address your change in income and a custody modification to address the residence status of the child. The procedures and criteria for modification of these issues vary by state and a qualified attorney can review your specific situation and divorce orders to determine how to proceed.
The fact the child may not be living with the mother may, or may not, have any bearing on the child support issue. If she is still financially responsible for the child, even if living with other family or at a boarding school, you would still be expected to contribute to cover those expenses. If she has no expenses, you may be liable to the state if the child is receiving public assistance or to a third party under certain conditions, as governed by the law of the state in which the child resides. The specifics of the residence issue would need to be explored.
Failure to abide by any court order is punishable as contempt of court. The contempt process usually involved two steps – first, establishing that a party did not comply with the court’s order and, second, whether the party had a reasonable excuse for non-compliance. If the court finds the violation was without just cause, the court may impose sanctions, from attorney fees to incarceration, in addition to requiring immediate compliance with the court order. While payment of the amount owed plus interest and perhaps attorney fees will usually resolve a contempt proceeding regarding child support, you should not assume the matter will not result in more severe sanctions. Again, consulting with a qualified attorney to defend you in a contempt proceeding is advised.