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Can a Person Be Jailed for Failing to Pay Court-Ordered Support?


A contempt proceeding is a valuable tool for enforcing an order for spousal maintenance and/or child support. If the court finds someone in contempt for willfully refusing to pay a valid support order, that person may be jailed. Unfortunately, some people refuse to take support orders seriously until they are faced with the possibility of going to jail.

Judges sometimes have little sympathy for people who failed to pay support orders. The judge may believe that a “get tough” attitude is the only way to get through to a party who refuses to pay support.

There are situations, however, where the failure to pay a support order is not due to a willful violation. Failure to comply may be due to the loss of a job, a reduction of income, or the existence of an unavoidable medical condition.

It is important for a party who is not receiving court order support to discuss the case with an experienced attorney. It certainly is not wise to spend money on a contempt case where there is a legitimate reason for the noncompliance with the support order. It may be wise to explore other ways of recovering money. But where there is a willful refusal to comply with the support order, an aggressive attorney to pursue contempt is an expedient way to proceed.

It also is wise for the party who failed to comply with the order to discuss the available legal options and defenses. Judges may be reluctant to incarcerate someone who has a realistic plan to address the support arrearages.

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