Child custody and child support payments go hand in hand, but many people may not realize just how serious the penalties are for those paying spouses who miss a support payment. Sometimes a spouse may miss a payment because of a personal issue; sometimes it may happen because he or she recently saw his or her income reduced; or, sometimes a missed payment can happen out of sheer indifference.

But in any case, the paying spouse will be in a lot of trouble. Missing one payment can lead to a mountain of child support debt that can be impossible to pay off. The penalties associated with the payment (in addition to the payment itself) can lead to more missed payments down the line. The endless spiral can lead to criminal charges, which could lead to the paying spouse losing his or her job.

And guess what? That makes it difficult to make the payments, which can lead to more debt, which can lead to criminal charges — and on and on. The spiral just takes one missed payment to begin, and all spouses need to be aware of the potentially serious consequences this entails.

What a paying spouse can do is request an alteration to the child support agreement. If you have recently lost your job or seen your income reduced, you could approach the court to modify the agreement. There’s no guarantee that a change will happen, but taking a proactive approach and working together with your former spouse could help head off a potential support payment problem.

Source: New York Times, ” Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat.,” Frances Robles and Shalia Dewan, April 19, 2015