Generally, lawyers and judges prefer to avoid sending someone to jail since doing so can risk losing a job and certainly impairs the ability to find a job.
When one party fails to comply with a court order, the other party presents a petition for indirect civil contempt.
At the first court date, the party is allowed time to hire an attorney and to respond to the petition. Either at that court date or the next date approximately 30 days later, the court will issue a Rule to Show Cause and will continue the case for approximately 30 days.
It then becomes the obligation of the person who failed to pay support to prove that they did pay or that the failure to pay was not willful disregard of the court’s order. Simply asserting that there is insufficient income is not enough. Specific detail of what money was available and spent is necessary. Lack of documentation or evidence of spending on luxuries may result in a finding of contempt.
If the court finds that the failure to pay was without justification, the court will sentence the person to jail but will not enforce the sentence. The court then gives an opportunity for the person to pay a set amount referred to as a purge. That is often the full amount of the arrearage or at least 20% of the arrearage to be paid in order to avoid jail.
At the next court date, if support is not paid, jail may be the next step.
By this time, the person who has not paid, has had at least 4 months and very often longer to comply with the court’s order. While frustrating to the person who is owed support, this process keeps people at their jobs or in the job marketplace.
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