Back story:
I am male, 50 years old. 25 years ago, in New York State (USA), I and a bunch of coworkers occasionally would go out for drinks on Fridays after work. One of the regulars in this crowd is "Ursula." Ursula has made occasional advances that were gently rebuked by me.

One night, Ursula says that I'm too drunk to drive, Can she drive me home? She does, invites herself in and I don't resist the obligatory come-on. Sure enough, she ends up pregnant, tells me that this was intentional, that she wanted a child and did not expect anything from me. She does not want child support and does not want me to be a part of the child's life. Frustrated, embarrassed, I eventually move away (a year later).

16 years later, I've been living my life. Married, divorced, and finally in a good job, making more money than I ever had in my life, before or since. One day—Poof! I get a summons to a court from the next county over (In Arizona now) regarding child support. It actually took me a while to understand that this was Ursula from 16 years ago, who now happened to live in the state that I was currently in. I go to court and the judge orders child support including the maximum 2 years retroactive.

Since that time, my pay has been garnished (approx. 40% of takehome pay) for every job I have had. I've had to change jobs relatively often (troubled industry), and am out of work at times, but pay when I have a paycheck with which to do so. No choice for me even if I were to resist (which I don't).

Currently I live in Florida and am out of work. Now I have been summoned to appear in court for delinquency of child support payments.

I feel like this may simply be a reminder of sorts; the (local) attorney is using this hearing to "remind" me that I have to pay, but I'm wondering if there is more to it.

Is any of this back story pertinent to the case? Should I inform the court?

Can I be arrested/otherwise additionally penalized for my situation?

What can I expect when I go to the hearing?

  • 2
    Did you request a paternity test? Are you on the birth certificate? Yes, you can be arrested for child support arrears and you can have your passport seized.
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 30, 2018 at 1:58
  • 1
    Something also doesn't make sense, you say 16 years after you slept together you got a summons for child support and ordered to pay 2 years of back-support. The child would have been 15 or 16, meaning with 2 years back support you would be paying for a maximum of 5 years worth of support. That was supposedly 9 years ago that the order was placed, so by my math you should have stopped about 4 years ago, the child should be 24/25 years old right now.
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 30, 2018 at 2:36
  • @RonBeyer This is all true. I've assumed that the child support amount was based on my salary at the time of the judgement 9 years ago. This is why I brought up the concept of my having had spotty/low-paying work since. I'm (obviously) still behind. Jul 30, 2018 at 2:48
  • It should have been for the 2 years retroactive, but when your salary changed you should have filed for a modification of the support order. See this about changing jobs.
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 30, 2018 at 2:52

1 Answer 1


Is any of this back story pertinent to the case? Should I inform the court?

Not really. How the child gets born or the intention of the parties at the time doesn't matter.

Can I be arrested/otherwise additionally penalized for my situation?

If you are subject to a child support order and don't pay, but have the ability to pay, you can be held in contempt of court and incarcerated until you do pay. If you are unable to pay, this is a legal defense to contempt of court and you should not be incarcerated (but you may be anyway if you don't raise this defense or fail to prove it to the satisfaction of the court). You have an affirmative duty to make child support payments even if you aren't currently being garnished.

The court could also reduce the arrears to a money judgement, if this hasn't already done so, and place liens on your real property and authorize seizure of your personal property to pay the debts.

The court could also order you to disclose the location of all of your assets and income under oath.

Eventually unpaid child support can also cause you to lose professional and occupational licenses and seizures of tax refunds.

What can I expect when I go to the hearing?

There isn't enough information in this post to be very clear exactly which stage of the proceedings you are in. If you be an advisement and a setting of a hearing later on the merits, it could be a hearing on the merits itself.

You should be prepared to prove that you are unable to pay, or if you are able to pay, you should do so before the hearing.

If possible, you may want to consider borrowing funds to pay off the child support debt, so that your loan does not receive the special treatment of child support debts if you have difficulty paying the substitute loan in the future.

If you are unable to pay due to reduced income, you could file a motion with the court seeking to reduce the child support amount prospectively (i.e. for new payments), based upon your reduced ability to pay. Of course, if you owe no new payments and are exclusively paying arrears, this option isn't available to you.

The stakes are quite high and you should consider retaining a lawyer to assist you in this matter.

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