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Can My Ex-spouse be Put in Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

By Amy Hoch Hogenson

Once the court enters an order for child support, there is a continuing obligation that payments be made until the child is 21, provided the child continues as a full-time student enrolled in a institution of higher education.

In many instances, whether due to economic circumstances, like loss of job, decreased income, unwillingness, accident or disability, a parent ordered to pay support may stop paying child support.

When this happens,  a child support “arrearage” will accumulate  to the point that thousands of dollars may be owed.  Sometimes this can happen at the same time that  the non-paying spouse obtains  new vehicles and dines out regularly.

I am often asked: at what point will a judge be willing to consider jail for the non-paying spouse. A party must request the court to hold the non-paying party in contempt, and ask for the non-paying party be put in jail until the arrears are paid. After a hearing, a judge will issue a judgment determining if an individual is in contempt of the court’s order to pay child support or not.  If the court finds that the individual is in contempt, the court may issue a warrant and order commitment, which is an order directing local law enforcement to take the individual into custody.  However, courts do not have to order commitment and may be reluctant to do so based on circumstances.

Although at first blush you may think that a non-paying spouse deserves jail time, it is a often difficult decision for the court.  An attorney versed in this area of the law can help you decide whether it is in your interest to request jail time and how to make the best presentation to the court to help obtain your back payments, which should be your ultimate goal.


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