Can I Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

Child Support

If you have been ordered by a court to pay child support, you are expected to make those payments on time and in full. Excuses are rarely tolerated by family court judges. After all, it is your child’s right to receive financial support from both parents.

Is Jail a Potential Penalty for Failing to Pay Child Support?

In short, yes, you can go to jail for failing to pay your court-ordered child support. The good news is that you will have several chances to amend the issue and make up the payments you owe.

If you are more than 30 days late on a child support payment, your debt may be reported to a credit agency. The credit agency can contact you to collect on those past-due payments.

You could also:

  • Be prevented from renewing your driver’s license
  • Have a lien placed on your car or other property
  • Have your support payments deducted from any money the state owes you or your lottery winnings
  • Have your tax refund withheld

If all these measures have been exhausted and you have still not paid your child support, the Court can find you in contempt of court. You will only be found in contempt if the court determines that you were able to pay but refused to do so. If your child support case is being enforced by the Department of Revenue (DOR), DOR will take several enforcement measures before resorting to holding you in contempt of court, which can carry penalties ranging from paying a purge amount and/or going to jail time. Judges have broad discretion in assigning penalties for anyone found in contempt of court. You could face a specific jail sentence of up to five months and 29 days.

Florida’s Efforts to Prevent Unpaid Child Support

In Florida, parents can register their child support orders with the State Disbursement Unit, which means the state facilitates payments and can step in with enforcement actions if payments are not made.

More than ¾ of child support payments in Florida are made through wage garnishment also known as an Income Deduction Order (IDO). Wage garnishment or IDOs are a form of collection that involves withholding the support payment from the payor’s paycheck. This method reduces the likelihood that a parent will fail to make their child support payment, as the payment is automatically taken from their paycheck.

Don’t Be Found in Contempt of Court. Request a Modification.

Rather than face the hardships of being found in contempt of court, take action to prevent these harsh punishments in the first place. If you are struggling to make ends meet or to pay your child support in full, your best bet might be to request a modification of your support order.

Steps for Modifying Child Support in Florida

If you can show that a change in your circumstances makes it impossible for you to pay your child support while maintaining financial security, a judge may grant a modification and lower your support obligation.

First, you can request a review. Depending on who ordered your child support payments, this request can go through the Child Support Program or the circuit court. If approved, the reviewer will look over your situation, evaluating your income and what has changed. Then, they will send an order to your former spouse, doing the same with their finances.

Keep in mind that this review process can go many ways. It won’t always benefit the person who requests the review. For example, if your former spouse is now making less money than before, you could be asked to pay even more in child support. To have the changes work in your favor, the reviewers are looking for a “substantial, permanent, and involuntary change” in your circumstances.

To determine that your change is substantial, reviewers must see how the change has impacted your finances. If your current child support order is less than three years old, your finances must be at least 15% less than before. However, that difference cannot be less than $50 per month. If the order is older than three years, your income must be at least 10% less. That difference cannot be less than $25 per month.

For your change to be considered permanent, it must have lasted for at least six months. Even when your change has lasted that long, it could still be ineligible for a child support modification. Imagine you lost your job. However, you are highly educated with many marketable skills. The reviewers will take your potential earnings into account. They will evaluate your skills along with the job market. If they believe that you will eventually start earning soon, they may deny modification.

An involuntary change must be through no fault of your own. For example, you may have been injured and unable to work. Maybe your company downsized, and you were laid off. Being fired for poor performance will probably not be a justifiable reason for modification. Similarly, if you took a lower paying position or voluntarily quit your job, it is unlikely that your reviewers will grant modification.

Changes can apply to your former spouse’s circumstances as well. Perhaps they secured a much higher paying job, or they married a new partner who supports them. These alterations could also be grounds for a child support modification.

The bottom line is that you have options. Don’t let the issue spiral out of control – seek help and retain a trusted child support attorney. At Conti Moore Law, PLLC, we have decades of experience to put to work for you.

Contact us at (407) 315-2006 to request an initial consultation with our team.

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