Parents need to follow a child support order, and a judge might hold them in contempt if they don’t. Before making this finding, however, a judge will send an order to come into court and show cause for why you don’t deserve a contempt finding.
If you receive an order to show up for a hearing, you are probably curious about how to defend yourself. It is possible to beat contempt of court charges, but you would benefit from a lawyer’s help. Below, our child support attorney identifies three ways you can fight back against a contempt charge.
Pay Your Child Support Arrears
A straightforward strategy is to catch up on child support. You are only facing contempt of court charges because you have not paid support as ordered by the judge. If you have the funds, you should pay back everything you owe and make sure to stay current going forward.
Even if you catch up on late payments, don’t ignore the contempt hearing. You should still attend and tell the judge that you are caught up. A judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest if you don’t show up voluntarily, and nothing is more embarrassing than getting arrested in front of friends and family. At the hearing, explain why you failed to pay before. For example, you might have been temporarily disabled or imprisoned. You should have some explanation.
Argue Your Violation Was Unintentional
A judge will only hold you in contempt if he or she finds you intentionally refused to follow the court order. That’s a high bar for a judge.
Examples of why people accidentally stop paying include:
- You became very ill and were in the hospital, so you couldn’t work or contact anyone.
- You changed jobs and forgot to tell the state about your job change. Most parents have an income withholding order, which instructs their employer to hold back monthly child support. If you changed jobs, however, you might not have notified the Division of Child Support.
- You lost your job and haven’t yet had a chance to request a modification of your child support
Request a Modification of Child Support
In our experience, most violations aren’t accidental. Instead, the non-custodial parent loses a job or becomes disabled, so they intentionally stop paying because they have no money coming in the door. That’s not really accidental; that’s intentional conduct. Technically, this type of refusal to pay might warrant a contempt finding.
Most parents have their hearts in the right place. They stop paying but think they’ll catch back up later when their finances stabilize. But you can’t unilaterally choose to stop paying, even if you lost a job. You need a judge to modify a child support order.
If you have encountered financial difficulties, a judge will probably be sympathetic to a point. Ultimately, you and your attorney might need to admit to the judge that you weren’t aware you needed permission to stop paying. You can promise to be in closer contact with the court and the Division of Child Support.
Let Us Help
Alliance Law Group has represented many parents in child support cases. Contact us to discuss a modification, contempt, or other issues.