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The Challenges of Restructuring Alimony and Child Support Arrears

The Complex Process of Restructuring Alimony and Child Support Debt

Navigating the legal system to restructure alimony and child support arrears can be extremely challenging. With so many complex rules and procedures, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. This article provides an overview of the key issues and potential solutions when facing substantial back payments.

Understanding the Root Causes

There are many reasons why someone may fall behind on alimony or child support obligations. Job loss, illness, new family obligations, or simply an inability to pay are some common causes. While the reasons do matter in terms of legal remedies, the bottom line is there is an accumulating amount owed.

“I lost my job and got so far behind, I felt like I’d never catch up,” said one father on Reddit. “It’s been stressing me out for years trying to rebuild and make payments.”

Situations like this are more common than many realize. According to one analysis by PolicyLab, over $100 billion in child support arrears have accumulated in the U.S. Resolving this requires nuanced legal skills.

Seeking Legal Help is Crucial

With so much at stake, getting professional legal advice is highly recommended when facing substantial arrears. An experienced family law attorney can help navigate the complexities.

Some key questions to ask potential lawyers:

  • What are my options based on state laws and my specific case details? Laws vary quite a bit state-by-state regarding arrears.
  • What are the pros and cons of different approaches? There are many variables to weigh regarding restructuring agreements.
  • What realistic payment plans or settlements could I expect? Each case will be different in terms of reasonable expectations.
  • What happens if I don’t address this proactively? Understanding potential consequences for inaction is important.

Thoroughly vetting lawyers on sites like Avvo and LawInfo can help find the right fit for your situation. Check credentials, client reviews and fees charged to make an informed choice.

“After talking to three different lawyers, I found one who really understood my situation,” said one mother on Quora. “She helped me negotiate a new payment plan that actually worked with my budget. It was such a relief.”

Petitioning the Court for Compromise

If out-of-court agreements with a former spouse can’t be reached, filing a petition for compromise with the court is another option. The court will consider factors like ability to pay and good faith efforts to resolve the matter when deciding the outcome.

Be prepared to disclose detailed financial records and documentation on both ability to pay past amounts owed and current income and expenses. The courts won’t approve modifications without justification.

“I tried for months to negotiate lower payments with my ex, but she wouldn’t budge,” a father on Reddit said. “Going to court was my only choice. Now there’s at least a payment plan I can manage.”

While every case is different, courts do aim for balanced compromise when feasible. But it still comes down to each parent’s specific financial situation and state laws on family court matters. Having an attorney well-versed in these variables is invaluable.

Strategically Seeking Debt Forgiveness

If restructuring payments isn’t viable given the total amount owed, seeking partial or full debt forgiveness may be possible. First, state laws must allow this option. Where available, again documentation will be required to prove inability to pay.

Two common legal approaches for debt forgiveness include:

1. File for Bankruptcy

  • Alimony, child support may be discharged through bankruptcy filings in some states
  • Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows a repayment plan over 3-5 years
  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows discharging of eligible debt entirely
  • Outcomes depend on state laws and specifics of each case

2. Request an Equitable Settlement

  • Argue the arrears are so substantial that requirements for “equitable settlement” are met
  • Request partial or full debt forgiveness rather than unrealistic payment plan
  • Exact laws vary by state, so professional legal advice is critical

While certainly not an easy process, thousands have successfully resolved unpayable arrears through debt forgiveness options.

“I know bankruptcy seems scary, but it was actually a smooth process and wiped my slate clean,” said one woman on Quora. “I was finally able to move forward.”

Special Considerations for Child Support

Navigating child support arrears adds another layer of complexity given the child’s interests are also at stake. Courts may be less inclined to allow modifications that reduce the overall amount owed if it could negatively impact the child.

There are also unique options like requesting arrears be paid to the child directly rather than through standard means. Additionally, having arrears be paid through automatic payroll deductions rather than monthly payments may be ordered.

The bottom line is addressing child support arrears requires a thoughtful approach accounting for what’s owed to the child. Expert legal guidance is highly recommended before filing any petitions.

Creating a Feasible Payment Plan

If some level of arrears must be paid back directly, developing an appropriate payment plan is key. Agreements ordered by the court factor in total amount owed, current income and future earnings potential.

Creating affordable payment plans requires thoroughly assessing:

  • Total arrears amount with detailed records
  • Current employment status and income
  • Future education and career plans that may increase earnings
  • Other financial obligations – bills, loans, bankruptcy payments, etc.

With all details accounted for, propose reasonable monthly payments. Being transparent and realistic is important, as the court can order payments whether one agrees or not.

Support Resources

Restructuring arrears under court oversight is often mandatory, but that doesn’t mean going it completely alone. Many support resources exist, such as:

  • Peer Support Groups – Connect with others facing similar struggles. DivorceCare offers programs nationwide.
  • Non-Profit Credit Counseling – Reputable sources like NFCC provide guidance managing debt.
  • Government Assistance – Those facing poverty may qualify for food, medical or housing assistance until more financially stable.

Tapping available support tools while navigating the legal system can ease the burden. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.


Dealing with overwhelming alimony or child support arrears is difficult, but solutions exist. With professional legal guidance, understanding your options under state laws, and developing feasible agreements, progress is very possible. Support groups also provide community while handling the pressures.

The process takes time and diligent effort, but the long-term benefits for all involved make it worthwhile. Thousands have successfully restructured payments or settled debt in ways that work for their situation. With determination and the right help, you can too.

This overview highlights key strategies – connect with a family law professional to discuss your unique situation and next steps. Relief from the weight of arrears is within reach.


Child Support Debt Video Overview

DivorceCare Support Group Details

NFCC Non-Profit Credit Counseling

Government Benefits Eligibility Tool


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