In 2013, Pedro Quezada of Passaic, NJ made national headlines when he won $338.3 million in the fourth-largest jackpot in Powerball history. Shortly after, Quezada made headlines again when it was revealed that he owed over $29,000 in child support, for which he was ordered to appear in court. Quezada has since paid the entire amount in full, which is frankly chump change considering that his winnings after taxes were approximately $152 million. What's interesting about this story from a legal perspective is that the child support order, filed back in 2009, was never truly forgotten. It also goes to show that the New Jersey family courts do implement enforcement measures against parents who are behind in their payments.
It's important to point out that there are legitimate reasons for being behind on child support, which is why the courts conduct a formal hearing, thereby giving the parent a chance to explain his or her side of the story. It's extremely important for paying parents to appear at the hearing; ignoring the order or failing to appear can result in a wide variety of sanctions. These sanctions include, but are not limited to:
-interception of lottery or other cash winnings.
-tax refund offset
-personal and commercial driver's license suspension
-reporting to the New Hires Directory
While criminal offenses have strict and limited penalties, sanctions for civil offenses are largely up to the judge's discretion. Because of the tremendous burden placed on the custodial parents, as well as state welfare services, judges have learned to think “outside the box” when it comes to dealing with non-paying parents. While there are parents who have been sent to jail, most judges agree that this is not an ideal solution. Whenever possible, judges will attempt to collect on the arrears through methods such as forced property sales, and collecting the payment from lawsuit awards or settlements.
As previously mentioned, the judge has to consider the payor's side of the story, and review evidence of his or her ability to pay. Since the paying parent will need to make a convincing case for defying a court order -- one that involves the welfare of a child, no less -- legal representation from an experienced family law attorney is highly recommended. An attorney can also help negotiate a reasonable payment plan, and mitigate the risk of being hit with punishing sanctions that devastate one's finances and career prospects. Although judges do not frequently issue jail sentences, it is still a possibility -- one which you will want to avoid at all costs. Being found in contempt of court for non-payment of child support is a criminal offense, thereby resulting in a criminal record. Considering the gravity of these consequences, you should at least consider speaking with an attorney about your rights and legal options. The attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. will be happy to address all your child support concerns during a free initial consultation.