Yes, You Can Go to Jail for Failure to Pay Child Support, but the Presumption of Innocence Applies
How ugly can battles over child support get? Pretty ugly, in fact. The cases where one spouse threatens to take the children and disappear are quite rare, but years-long court battles where ex-spouses accuse each other of being gold diggers or deadbeats are more common. No one, least of all judges, wants to hear people drag their ex-spouses’ names through the mud again and again, so the remedies for child support disputes are simple. If your financial situation changes and you can no longer afford the child support payments you were originally required to pay, you can apply for a modification of child support. If your ex-spouse can pay child support but refuses to pay it, you can file a motion to have your ex held in contempt of court, and you can even request to have your ex’s paychecks garnished until you receive the back child support you are owed. If the court holds you in criminal contempt, you can go to jail. If you are involved in a child support dispute, contact a Tennessee child support lawyer.
Contempt of Court in Tennessee
When a person disobeys a court’s orders or behaves inappropriately in a courtroom, the court can hold the person in contempt of court. One of the most common reasons that courts hold people in contempt is for failure to pay child support. If you want the court to hold your ex-spouse in contempt for nonpayment of child support obligations, you must show that your spouse intentionally withheld payment; being late with child support payments because of legitimate financial hardship is not grounds for contempt of court. If you request to have your ex held in criminal contempt, your ex can receive criminal penalties, including incarceration. A motion to hold your ex in criminal contempt requires due process, though, so your ex is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Neely Case
Christina and Brian Neely divorced when both of their children were minors. The older child turned 18 in 2014, but the court did not modify the child support order until May 2016, when it reduced Brian’s monthly obligation from $1,244 to $890. Even though the modification applied retroactively to 2014, Brian still owed Christina more than $4,500 in back child support. She had gone to court many times to enforce the child support agreement, filed requests for contempt, and even had Brian’s paychecks garnished for a while. In the summer of 2017, after Christina filed a motion for criminal contempt, and after failed attempts at mediation, the court ruled that Brian would have to spend 10 days in jail unless he paid Christina the back child support by September. Brian appealed, and he successfully persuaded the court that his failure to pay child support was not because of an intentional refusal to pay. Thus, the court reversed its decision to hold him in contempt.
Let Us Help You Today
A Knoxville child support lawyer can help you avoid long, drawn-out battles over child support payments. Contact Patrick L. Looper for a consultation.