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Can I go to jail for failing to pay child support?

Possibly. Massachusetts’s courts take failure to pay child support very seriously. As a result, you may face stiff penalties for not paying child support, including jail time.

If you do not make court-ordered child support payments, the other parent can ask a judge to hold you in contempt of court. The parent must file something called a complaint for contempt. Once the complaint is filed, you will get a summons with a hearing date. At the hearing, a judge will determine whether you complied with the child support order. 

If the judge finds that you failed to comply with the court order, you will be held in contempt of court. The judge can then order you to pay the past-due child support. In some circumstances, the judge can even sentence you to jail. A jail sentence is usually a last resort. Generally, this penalty is reserved for cases where a person deliberately disobeys a court order.

In addition to contempt of court, there are other consequences for failing to pay child support. In fact, a parent does not have to go to court to get you to comply with the child support order. The parent can enlist the help of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s Child Support Enforcement Division. The DOR can enforce child support in a number of ways. For example, it can:

 

  • Charge interest and penalties
  • Place a lien on real estate and personal property
  • Seize your personal property
  • Suspend your driver’s license
  • Intercept your federal and state income tax refunds
  • Levy your bank account
  • Increase your income garnishment

Because the risks of failing to pay child support are quite high, it is important to keep your child support payments up to date. If you cannot afford the payments, you may find it helpful to consult an attorney. If you recently lost your job or your income went down, you may be able to get a court to modify the child support order. 

Source: Mass.gov, “What Happens if the Non-Custodial Parent Doesn’t Pay?,” Accessed Sept. 7, 2015

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