The payment of child support is not optional. If a judge has issued a child support order, it must be followed without exception. If a circumstance has arisen that would warrant a change in that order, you must petition the court for a modification. Stopping payments without a modified or terminated child support order can have serious consequences, including jail time.
Whether you’re currently receiving child support or are responsible for paying support, it is important to understand how the process works and what may happen if support isn’t paid.
Jail Time for Failing to Pay Child Support
In Massachusetts, a person who fails to pay child support could face jail time—in certain circumstances. According to the official website of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a parent who is owed child support can file a Complaint for Contempt against the parent who is supposed to pay. In this way, the parent who is owed support can ask the court to review the matter and determine if the other is in contempt. This means they are willfully not complying with a court order.
When a Complaint for Contempt is filed, the next step is a hearing on the matter. A judge will hear both sides and determine whether the parent who is not obeying the child support order should be held in contempt of court. The parent will need to prove why they could not obey the child support order to avoid being held accountable.
If a judge rules in favor of the parent who is owed child support, they may order the other parent to pay support, get a job, or even go to jail.
The purpose of incarceration in this type of situation is to compel the parent to pay the child support they owe, not simply to penalize the parent for nonpayment. For example, a father who owes $12,000 in child support may be sentenced to 60 days in jail after being found in contempt. If he pays the $12,000 after 15 days in jail, he may be released.
Every case is different, however, so it is important to get insight that applies to your particular situation.
Other Ways Child Support Is Enforced in Massachusetts
Nonpayment of child support is not an automatic jail sentence. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) will typically look to other means to collect child support first, and income withholding is the preferred method.
The DOR has the authority to withhold income for the payment of child support. This authority is granted by a provision in a court order issued by a judge who has awarded child support. Income withholding works similarly to how tax payments are taken out of a person’s paycheck by their employer. When an employer receives an income withholding order from the DOR, they must begin deducting child support from the employee’s paycheck immediately. The deductions must continue until the employer receives written verification that the child support order has been terminated or modified. The DOR can increase child support income withholdings by 25% without getting a new court order if the person has fallen behind on their payments.
A parent who is owed child support can also seek help from the DOR. By applying for child support services, a parent may be eligible for the DOR’s help in charging interest and penalties on past-due child support.
Our Massachusetts Child Support Attorneys Can Help
If you are dealing with unpaid child support or any family law matter, Miller Law Group, P.C. may be able to help. We understand how Massachusetts child support enforcement works, how to pursue a modification, and how to protect your interests through every step of your case.
Call (508) 502-7002 or contact us online to learn more!