How Long Can Someone Go To Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

Child support can get tricky. 

Kids are expensive, and sometimes the court-ordered amount is not possible or reasonable.

Maybe you are sending what you can, and you have just fallen behind, or perhaps you are not able to send anything because of your current situation.

Either way, it can be a scary situation.

After all, words like “wage garnishment” and “jail time” are not exactly the most encouraging.

So if you are behind on your child support payments, you might find yourself wondering, “can and how long can someone go to jail for not paying child support?”

The short answer is yes, they can!

The longer answer? It’s a little more complicated. Let’s take a look at the process. 

What Happens When I Miss a Payment?

If you know you are going to miss a child support payment, the best thing to do is tell the custodial parent before you miss it. This communication is not possible in every situation, but if it is, honesty may be the best policy. It is especially important if your missed payment is due to an injury or layoff that is keeping you from working. 

If communicating in advance is not possible, or if you do not address your delinquency beforehand, the custodial parent is within their rights to report the missed payment to South Carolina’s Division of Child Support Services or DCSS. 

Once a petition is filed and a case opened by DCSS, a judge will schedule an enforcement hearing. This hearing is your chance to explain why you have missed payments. 

When the hearing date comes, make sure you bring any supporting documentation, such as medical records, that may help explain your delinquency. In the meantime, try your best to make at least partial payments. Often, a judge will see your actions as good faith attempts to fulfill your obligations and may be lenient. 

During this hearing, if the judge finds that you have violated your child support agreement, they will find you in “contempt of court“, and penalties will apply. 

What Could the Penalty Be?

Penalties for missing child support payments vary by circumstances. Every missed payment is not a one-way ticket to the county jail. Depending on your case details, you may face:

  • Fines
  • Garnished wages or benefits
  • Interception of tax refunds, personal injury suits, or unemployment benefits
  • Loss of recreation and driving license
  • Loss of passport
  • Property liens
  • Jail time

It is unlikely that a first offense will land you behind bars. 

Often, if you have documentation and a good reason for not paying, the court may modify your support obligation until your situation changes. 

How Long Can Someone go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

We know the worry is still there, even if the chance of jail time is unlikely. So how long can someone go to jail for not paying child support?

Because the official charge is contempt, rather than failing to pay child support, the law in South Carolina states that you may face $1500 in fines or up to a year in jail, and sometimes both. And while this is an unlikely outcome, it is still worrisome.

If you are facing a child support or contempt hearing for failing to pay child support, give us a call. We will help you find a solution. 

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