Virginia has a problem with parents falling behind in child support payments. Virginia’s Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) reports1 374,000 children living in Virginia are owed more than $2.64 billion in unpaid child support. This is clearly a social mess that needs addressing, but your ex-wife is not a caped crusader; she cannot refuse visitation because you have not fulfilled your legal obligation to pay child support.
Terrible Parenting Tactics Hurt the Children
To be fair to divorced fathers, we have to acknowledge that many dads strive to meet their financial obligations to their children. Child support is not spousal support; any money going to help raise your children—even if they are not under your roof—is an investment in the future. You want healthy, intelligent, well-rounded kids, so the child support payments you agreed to in your divorce decree are helping to provide food, clothing, shelter, education, and recreation for your children.
Some parents consider tactics to reduce their child support payments. They may change jobs to get less pay; that does not relieve them of their child support payments. They may file bankruptcy; that also does not relieve them of the burden to pay for their children’s upbringing.
“The filing of bankruptcy does not mean that child support will not be owed. While DCSE may have to limit its collection efforts to collecting the current support obligation due for a period of time, the noncustodial parent will still be expected to pay any arrears once the bankruptcy has been discharged. Child support is not a debt that can be discharged by bankruptcy.”
So eliminating cloak-and-dagger nonsense that ultimately hurts the children, a divorced dad could face some genuine hardships that cause him to fall behind in child support payments. Illness, getting fired or laid off from a job, and even car troubles can cause money to be tight one or two months.
If you find yourself struggling to meet your obligations, be honest with your ex-wife. You may want to speak with your family law attorney, too, to see if you can get some legal relief or a reduction in payments, at least temporarily. Do everything you can to avoid paying entirely and becoming the infamous “deadbeat dad.”
The Child Support & Visitation Tradeoff is a False Equivalency
Your bitter ex-wife may have reason to be upset with you for falling behind on child support payments. She may be struggling to provide the bulk of care for your children on the money she earns, which is probably not enough to keep them in a lifestyle they grew to enjoy when both of you were supporting them.
She may attempt to withhold visitation from you because you owe money for child support. This is a false equivalency, because visitation is a parental right decreed by the court, and child support is a financial obligation decreed by the same court.
Your attorney can vigorously defend your right to see and interact with your children. Virginia law places the burden for collecting child support with the DCSE (part of the Department of Social Services) and the burden for overseeing visitation with the courts. They are two separate, though intertwined, jurisdictions.
Live by the Code
The Code of Virginia spells out the law for visitation in “Title 20. Domestic Relations, Chapter 6.1., Custody and Visitation Arrangements for Minor Children, § 20-124.3., Best interests of the child; visitation” and nowhere does it mention money. This is precisely because child support is independent of parental rights; even an indigent dad has a legal right to see the smiles on his kids’ faces.
Be careful, however, in pushing your luck with this, because (as you might expect from politicians), the law provides a loophole in subsection 10:
“Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.”
Say you married and divorced one woman and stopped paying child support for the one child that sprang from that marriage. You marry and divorce again, with two children from the second marriage. In decreeing visitation rights for you in the second case, the court may not look kindly upon your history of non-payment in the first case. The judge could use subsection 10 of the law to deny you visitation rights to your other children because you are already a “deadbeat dad” in his or her eyes.
Your Kids Deserve a Father
Your custody and visitation attorney can school you closely on the particulars of your situation, but most attorneys will remind you not to mix up your duties to pay for your children’s upbringing with your rights to visit them. Your ex-wife may learn, too, that she cannot withhold the children as live bait should you fall behind on your obligations to provide for those children. If you find yourself struggling with either visitation or child support issues, contact The Firm for Men in Virginia Beach at 757-383-9184 to schedule an appointment with a family law attorney today.