Can I Go to Jail for Failure to Pay Child Support?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on February 29, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You work hard and try to pay all your bills on time, but it happens that you fall behind on one. Maybe this happens a few times. Before you know it, you're all messed up and you just missed some child support payments! Are you going to jail?

Probably not. Mothers and fathers who fail to pay child support do face punishments of all kinds, including fines and jail. But the idea is to ensure that kids have what they need, so except in egregious cases, parents who are in arrears on child support are not incarcerated.

What Will Happen?

Federal law permits state and local government authorities to collect child support on behalf of custodial parents. How they do this is by applying financial, legal, and even social pressures on parents.

Enforcement can include putting liens on property, claiming a portion of the paycheck of a parent in arrears directly from an employer, and even public shaming. Some jurisdictions post information about deadbeat parents online, hoping to inspire payment.

As for incarceration, it can happen. However, jailing people tends not to make them more employable or more financially stable. So this reponse to negligence in support is rare and saved as a last resort.

Trouble Making Payments

Before you get in any trouble, take a preventive measure if necessary. When you are unable to pay, communicate with the other parent. Embittered exes, no less than other adults, understand that life is full of unexpected developments. Try to work something out, a temporary solution, by making it clear that you are not trying to evade responsibility.

You can also turn to the courts for help. You can seek an official court order seeking a reduction in support based on changed circumstances, if it's warranted.

Talk to a Lawyer

You should pay your child support promptly because it's your child who needs the support. But if you are struggling with payments, or have any other questions related to divorce or support, consult with a family law attorney. Many lawyers consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to provide guidance.

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