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How Child Support Affects Child Custody and Visitation

Child custody and child support are two separate matters,[1] but that doesn’t mean that one cannot impact the other. Custody frequently impacts support since the amount of time the child spends with each parent is a factor in calculating child support obligations. However, many parents wonder if failure to pay child support means visitation can be withheld.

The parent that receives child support cannot legally deny the other parent visitation with the child if they fail to make the ordered support payments.[2] The payee spouse can file a Motion for Order to Show Cause, which allows them to ask the court to hold the other parent in contempt for violating the court order.

If the court grants the Motion, the parent who has failed to make their support payments could serve jail time. Such a severe sentence is not common in custody and support cases, but it is a possibility when the circumstances call for drastic measures.

Turner v. Turner

The parties in Turner v. Turner[3] underwent a lengthy process involving multiple Motions for Contempt, years’ worth of child support arrears, jail time, and an appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

In 1990, Mother was awarded custody, and Father was granted visitation rights. He was also ordered to pay child support and cover the costs of the children’s health insurance. That same year, Mother filed to have Father held in contempt for failing to pay the ordered support. He requested a reduction, but that was denied, and he brought the support current to November 1990.

In January 1991, the court held Father in contempt for failing to pay child support and obtain insurance for the children. In December 1993, Mother filed another motion to have Father held in contempt for harassment and his delinquency on support payments. He again requested a reduction in support but was denied, and the court ordered Father to be arrested and his visitation rights suspended. He was sentenced to jail, and his visitation was subsequently summarily suspended for failure to pay support.

The Turner case involved years of unpaid support and multiple instances of court intervention, none of which made a difference in Father’s attempts to pay support. On appeal, the decision was remanded because the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court erred in suspending Father’s visitation. The lower court made the decision to suspend visitation without considering

[1] NC Judicial Branch. Child Support.

[2] NC Bar Foundation.

[3] Turner v. Turner. 919 S.W.2d 340, 1995.,child%20support%20award%2C%20but%20granted%20him%20additional%20visitation.