Will the Court Throw Me in Jail for Failing to Pay My Child Support?

Will the Court Throw Me in Jail for Failing to Pay My Child Support?

By: M. Scott Gordon

Whether by design or by circumstance, it is not uncommon for a non-custodial parent who is ordered to pay child support to fall behind on that obligation. When he or she is unable to promptly repay the amounts missed and continue to make regular payments, Illinois’ child support services and/or the custodial parent may petition the court to take one or more enforcement actions against the noncustodial parent. As any number of noncustodial parents who have fallen behind on their child support payments can attest, these enforcement actions can include jail.

Factors that Make it More Likely a Court Will Send a Parent in Child Support Arrears to Jail 

A court faced with a parent who has failed to make timely child support payments has several options available to coerce or compel payment from the parent and will typically consider a number of factors in deciding which enforcement action is appropriate in any given case. Factors that make it more likely the court will choose to send the nonpaying parent to jail include:

  • The amount of child support in arrears (the larger the amount, the more likely the court will choose to jail the parent);
  • The reason for the arrearage;
  • How long it has been since the parent last made a full payment;
  • Whether the parent is paying any child support amount at all or whether he or she has stopped paying child support altogether;
  • How many previous times the parent has been brought before the court for nonpayment;
  • Whether the parent is employed or has employment prospects; and/or
  • The likelihood that the parent will be able to resume payments in the near future.

Generally speaking, a court will be hesitant about putting a nonpaying parent in jail if the parent appears to have simply fallen on hard times and it appears likely that he or she will be able to resume payments in short order. Where it appears that a parent is willfully avoiding his or her obligation to pay child support, a court is much more apt to sentence that parent to jail after more modest efforts to force payment have failed.

If I Am Sent to Jail, When Can I Get Out? 

In most cases, a court will order that a nonpaying parent be sent to jail for civil contempt of court – in essence, for willfully refusing to obey a court order (here, to pay child support). When a parent is jailed for civil contempt, that parent is said to hold the “keys to the jailhouse” in that he or she is released from custody as soon as he or she makes an acceptable payment to the court. The court may require the parent to pay the entire amount that is in arrears or merely a portion of that amount before being released from custody.

A Chicago Child Support Collection Attorney Can Assist You 

Dedicated and aggressive legal counsel can help you when you have failed to make timely child support payments and are concerned about being jailed. You still have rights, even when you are being threatened with jail time, and our competent Chicago child support attorneys can help make sure these rights are protected. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC for assistance by calling our Chicago or Skokie offices or contacting us through our website.