When you're fired from your job or you lose paid hours because of an injury, it can be difficult to keep up with your child support payments. Even if you have the most justifiable reasons, North Carolina law still holds you to your child support obligations. You can face a wide range of penalties for failing to pay child support on time and in full.
Can one of these penalties include jail time? The short answer is yes, it can. Before you start mentally preparing for a stay behind bars, though, you should understand the general rules of child support enforcement in North Carolina.
Potential Enforcement Actions
When you miss a child support payment, the custodial parent can seek help from North Carolina's Child Support Enforcement Program (CSE). The CSE can then petition the courts to enforce your child support order in several ways.
The courts can potentially:
- Withhold income from your paychecks, social security benefits, unemployment benefits, workers' compensation, or veterans' disability compensation.
- Put a lien on your home or business.
- Garnish (or take money from) your state and federal tax refunds.
- Suspend your driver's license as well as your occupational, sporting, or recreational licenses.
- Report your actions to the credit bureaus.
- Take away your passport.
- Make you pay fines.
- Sentence you to jail time.
Contempt of Court Actions
When a custodial parent brings your missed payments to the court's attention, a judge may hold you in contempt of court, which essentially means you disobeyed a court order. The court will schedule a support hearing, where you must explain why you can't make the child support payments.
One missed child support payment is not an automatic ticket to your loca ljail. Your penalties will depend on the facts of your case, like your reasons for missing payments, your health, your financial status, and any efforts you've made to correct the situation. If the court finds that you were able to pay the amount owed, either in part or in full, you may be held in contempt. The court can give you any of the above penalties as a result.
Avoiding Contempt Actions
If you want to avoid a contempt of court action and possible jail time, you'll need to be proactive. That means making every effort to correct the situation that left you unable to pay. A few general tips:
- If you can't make the whole child support payment, at least try to pay part of it. The judge will see that you've made a good faith effort to make your payments.
- If you become injured or ill, keep all of your medical records. This will prove to the judge that you're really unable to work.
- If you lost your job, document all of your efforts to find a new job or earn an income. Again, it will show the judge that you are earnestly trying to fix the situation.
- Always keep your lawyer or caseworker up-to-date on your status. They will be better equipped to help you when they know what's going on.
If the situation warrants it, your attorney can also help you file a motion to modify child support. With a motion, you may be able to reduce your payments or get rid of them entirely, depending on your circumstances. Attempting to modify child support is always preferable to skipping the payment and ignoring your obligations!
Taking Preventative Measures
Refusing to pay child support out of spite or resentment is a great way to land a stay behind bars. If you follow the above tips and make every effort to cover your payments in good faith, on the other hand, you should never have to worry about jail time.
To make sure all of your bases are covered, call the Law Offices of Regina Taylor. Our skilled lawyers can guide you through the modification process, advise you on child support hearings, and keep you informed about your legal rights and responsibilities.