In family law, deadbeat parent is a term used to describe a person who does not pay child support to a custodial parent for a period of time, despite being ordered by a court to do so. Although the title is often stereotypically given to dads, a deadbeat parent can be either a mom or dad. The term is most commonly used in the United States and Canada.
More than ever, government agencies and court systems are cracking down on deadbeat parents. For example, some jurisdictions have passed laws that allow child support enforcement agencies to post “most wanted” lists online. These lists may disclose items such as the deadbeat parent’s name, photograph or physical description, last known address, and the past-due child support amount.
A custodial parent who is not receiving court-ordered support payments can also reach out to the child support enforcement agency in his or her jurisdiction. In general, these agencies are set up for the specific purpose of helping custodial parents enforce child support orders. They often provide other related services as well, such as locating parents, serving as a processing center, and establishing paternity. The agencies frequently offer these services even if the delinquent parent has moved to another jurisdiction. Normally, a child support enforcement agency does not handle child custody or visitation issues.
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Deadbeat parents can be subject to a number of penalties, depending on how much they owe, how long the payment has been outstanding, and how well they are cooperating with an enforcement agency or court. For instance, a jurisdiction may deny a delinquent parent the ability to obtain a passport, or it may suspend the parent’s driver’s license. Additionally, a jurisdiction can take child support payments directly from the parent’s paycheck, unemployment check, or tax refund. In some cases, a deadbeat parent may even be sentenced to jail time. If a parent is behind on payments because he or she doesn’t have the money to make the payments, the parent can ask the court to modify the amount owed.
In most jurisdictions, child support payments are a distinct issue from child visitation rights. Effectively, this means that a parent who is behind on child support payments may still have the right to visit his or her child. If the custodial parent denies visitation rights to a deadbeat parent, he may put his or her status as custodial parent at risk. As a result, a custodial parent should not hesitate to use the services of a child support enforcement agency when seeking support payments.