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Contempt for Unpaid Child Support

Child Support

What is Contempt of Court?

Courts can hold a person in contempt of court for disobeying its legal orders and directives. The power to hold someone in contempt of court arises for the purpose of securing respect for the court’s legal authority and enforcing its orders.

For example, if the court issues an injunction requiring a knock-off shoe manufacturer to cease and desist from selling shoes in violation of trademark and intellectual property rights, the infringing manufacturer’s disregard for that order can serve as a basis for holding them in contempt of court.

In the context of child support orders, state laws grant courts the power to hold a party in contempt of court for not paying child support. A child support order is typically issued by the court. Thus, if someone who owes child support refuses or otherwise fails to make payments, it can be viewed as a violation of a court order. As a result, the court has the power to hold the non-paying spouse in contempt in order to vindicate its legal authority.

The consequences for holding a person in contempt of court can involve hefty fines and penalties, including possible jail time.

The court’s authority to hold a person in contempt for unpaid child support is usually triggered when there are multiple months of outstanding child support. At that point, the parent to whom child support is owed can request the court to hold the other parent in contempt, if they can prove to the court that the other parent had the ability to pay child support but failed to do so regardless.

Civil Contempt for Unpaid Child Support

Civil contempt refers to a situation where the court holds a parent in contempt of court as a means of coercing the contemnor into complying with the court’s orders. Unlike criminal contempt, civil contempt is concerned with the noncomplying parent’s future noncompliance. The punishment in a civil contempt proceeding might still involve fines and jail time. However, the consequences are contingent on the noncomplying parent’s continued noncompliance.

For example, the court can order a noncomplying parent to be jailed, only granting their release if they agree to start paying child support. Unlike criminal contempt, a parent jailed for civil contempt has the power to end their incarceration at any time, as long as they decide to respect the court’s authority and comply with their valid child support orders. Thus, the defendant in civil contempt proceedings is considered to “hold the keys to their jail cell” as they have the power to determine how short or long they remain incarcerated.

McIntyre Tate LLP is Here to Advise You

Family law matters can be challenging to navigate without the assistance of a licensed attorney. Fortunately, the legal team at McIntyre Tate LLP has experience dealing with various issues arising from Rhode Island family law.

To schedule a consultation regarding your case, call McIntyre Tate LLP at (401) 351-7700 or complete our online request form today.