Failure to Pay Child Support and Contempt Charges

Palm Beach Child Support Lawyer

Usually, when parents separate or divorce, the noncustodial parent will pay money to the other parent to support the child. Child support payments are often essential to the financial stability of the child and custodial parent, but sometimes the payor parent does not pay, which can result in severe financial troubles.

Courts have several ways to enforce child support orders. They can garnish wages, suspend licenses, and withhold income tax exemptions. Additionally, they may find the delinquent parent in contempt of court. Contempt of court is the failure to obey a court order. There are two types of contempt in Florida - civil and criminal. If you are not getting your court-ordered child support, you should contact an experienced family law attorney today.

Civil Contempt

In child support cases, civil contempt charges are far more commonly used than criminal. To initiate civil contempt proceedings, the payee parent should file a motion with the court. Parents can do this on their own or with an attorney’s assistance, or can ask Florida Child Support Enforcement to file for them.

In the motion, the parent must show that there is a valid court order to pay child support and that the payor parent has not paid the support.

The custodial parent does not have to prove that the other parent has the ability to pay, but if the payor parent can show that he or she is not able to pay, the parent may escape contempt charges. He or she must demonstrate that circumstances beyond his or her control mean that the parent cannot pay and that the nonpayment is not intentional. For example, a payor parent may become disabled, causing the parent to lose his or her job.

Then, at a hearing, the judge will decide whether the payor parent is in contempt of court. If the court does find that the parent is in contempt, it will order a payment plan, specifying how and when to pay the past due support. It can also fine the parent or sentence him or her to jail.

Civil contempt orders include purge provisions, which tell the payor parent how to purge the contempt and avoid further punishment, for example, by paying all overdue support. This is because the purpose of the civil contempt is to encourage payment, rather than to punish nonpayment.

Criminal Contempt

Criminal contempt, unlike civil contempt, is a criminal offense and is thus prosecuted by a prosecutor. The payee parent does not bring the contempt action, as he or she would in civil contempt.

For criminal contempt, the prosecution must show that the payor parent had the ability to pay the child support and willfully refused to pay.

Criminal contempt must be proven by sworn testimony and other evidence at a show cause hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to allow the payor parent to show why he or she should not be found in contempt of court.

If convicted of criminal contempt, a parent may be sentenced to jail for up to 180 days and fined. Unlike civil contempt, criminal contempt is designed to punish the nonpaying parent. Thus, there are no purge provisions, so once a parent has been found in criminal contempt, he or she must serve the sentence given.

If you have not been receiving your child support payments, a dedicated attorney can discuss your options with you. Please call West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free consultation.