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Can You Go To Jail For Child Support?

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Do Not Go To Jail For Not Paying Your Child Support

child support jail

Paying Child Support can pose a financial hardship for many people.  It is not uncommon for someone to fall behind in their child support obligation due to the loss of a job.

The penalties for not paying child support can be severe including, in extreme circumstances, being put in jail.

The official reason for being put in jail for not paying your child support is called contempt of court.  Basically, this mean a judge ordered someone to pay child support and they have not done so, therefore they are in contempt of a court order.

How Is Someone Supposed To Pay Child Support When They Are In Jail?

The end goal of filing contempt charges against someone for not paying their child support is not to put them in jail; it is to get them to pay their child support.

Contempt is a collection tool of last resort for most child support agencies. 

If they are filing contempt charges against someone for not paying their child support all other collection actions have failed, including garnishments, bank freezes and license suspensions.

If you are indigent or disabled it is unlikely the child support agency will file contempt charges against you. 

Typically, if contempt charges are filed it is because the child support agency has reason to believe you have the assets to pay your child support but are simply refusing to do so.  A common scenario is a self employed person who has money but yet doesn’t pay his child support.

Self employed people are more difficult to collect from than those that have regular employers because the child support agency cannot garnish a self employed person’s paycheck.

That is why contempt can be a useful tool and sometimes the only tool in convincing a self employed person to comply and pay their child support.

How Does Contempt Work?

Typically the case will be referred to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in the locale where the paying parent resides.

The Prosecutor will then serve notice on the person informing them that contempt charges are being filed against them.

A hearing will be set once the person has been served.

The respondent will have the opportunity to hire an attorney or a public defender will be appointed if they qualify financially.  A public defender is appointed because jail time is a possibility when contempt charges are filed.

Often in these situations the respondent simply shows up to the hearing and agrees to start making monthly payments if they have the means.  The court then simply monitors for the payments and the hearings are continued as long as the payment agreement is kept.  After a period of time, if the payments are made on a regular on-going basis the court will likely move to dismiss the contempt charges and the contempt case will be closed.

If, however, for some reason the person still does not comply with paying their child support then a bench warrant may be issued for their arrest.

A common scenario if a person is arrested is to put them in jail for 10 days to see if they come up with bail money.  If they do, the bail money is used to pay their child support obligation.

The hope is, that eventually the person gets tired of bailing themselves out of jail and simply starts making their child support payments as directed. 

What If I Really Can't Afford To Pay?

If you truly can’t pay your child support due to disability then provide this information to the court.  They may assist you in modifying your child support order if you really can’t afford it.

If you can’t pay due to unemployment, the court may ask you to keep a job log to prove you are looking for work.

How Do I Avoid Contempt?

You should rarely if ever find yourself in a situation where you may go to jail for not paying your child support.

If contempt charges are being filed against you then it’s likely you have not communicated at all with the child support agency attempting to collect from you for quite some time.

It is never too late to cooperate. 

Simply let the court know your current financial situation and be honest.  If you can pay, then pay.  If you cannot afford to pay your child support then explain to the court why you can’t.

The only time you will find yourself in jail for non-payment of child support is because you are being completely uncooperative with the child support agency and or the court.

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