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What Are the Penalties for Avoiding Child Support?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Failing to pay court ordered child support is a serious legal problem with serious consequences. There is a rather compelling public policy purpose to have strict and severe penalties for intentionally avoiding child support payments, particularly given that a custodial parent may be dependent on child support in order to provide for the welfare of a child.

Fortunately, courts can be somewhat understanding when a person comes to them to explain they are not financially able to make payments before going into arrears. But any leniency can suddenly vanish if a person fails to promptly notify the court, and it can get increasingly worse if court orders are ignored.

Typical Penalties

Usually, when a person fails to pay child support, a court will order that the person to pay the owed amounts immediately or be subject to wage garnishment, or other methods of collection, such as withholding their tax return, or seizing personal property. If a person chronically fails to pay, a court may take the matter of paying out of the payee's hands by ordering wage garnishment in perpetuity, or ordering an automatic monthly debit from a personal account.

In addition to penalties designed to force prompt repayment and continued timely payments, courts have another tool at their disposal to discourage failing to pay: Jail.

Jail for Failing to Pay Child Support

How severe a judge will punish a person for failing to pay child support varies not just from case to case, but also from state to state. For instance, in Texas, failures to pay child support can result in incarceration if a person habitually makes their payment late. However, Texas isn't the only jurisdiction that will jail a person for failing to pay child support, as it is often regarded as a willful disregard of the court's order, and as such, a person can be held in contempt of court.

However, if a person who is unable to make their child support payments has a good reason, such as a loss of employment, illness, or other compelling reason, they may be able to petition the court for limited relief. Rather than penalize a parent that has fallen on hard times, which can often lead to those hard time spiraling out of control, courts can and will temporarily suspend or modify support orders. But failing to make a timely application to the courts can have severe consequences that only makes things worse.

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