Show Cause Hearings and Contempt of Court
Failing to follow a court order is called "contempt of court." A parent owed child support can schedule a "show cause" hearing before a judge. You must be served with a document ordering you to attend the
Hearing, and then must attend and explain why you haven't paid the support you owe. If you don't attend, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest. Many courts do issue warrants, so county jails have become resting stops for fathers who don't pay child support and fail to show up in court.
If you attend the hearing, the judge can still throw you in jail for violating the order to pay the support. And the judge may very well do so, depending on how convincing your story is as to why you haven't paid. If the judge isn't inclined to throw you into the slammer, the judge will instead order you to make future payments and will set up a payment schedule for you to pay any back support still owed.
L A United States Supreme Court case upholding the righ of a state to jail a parent for failing to pay child support is Hicks on behalf ofFeiock v. Feiock, 485 U. S. 624 (1988).
At the hearing, you can tell the judge that you couldn't afford the payments, but it may fall on deaf ears. The judge will want to know why you didn't file a motion to modify the ordered amount. See Section C, above. The judge won't reduce the amount of your back support arrears cannot be modified retroactively but may decrease your future payments. The judge may also order your wages withheld or a lien placed on your property, or may order you to post a bond or other assets.
To stay out of jail, you may have to convince the judge that you're not as irresponsible as the judge probably thinks you are. Preparing evidence is a must. Your first step is to show why you didn't pay. If you've been out of work, get a sworn statement from your most recent employer stating why you were let go. If you went job searching but to no avail, provide records of when you interviewed or filled out an application, and with whom you spoke. Remember disputes with your ex about custody or visitation are never an acceptable excuse for not paying child support.
Next, you want to explain why you didn't request a modification hearing. If you’ve been in bed or otherwise out of it depressed, sick, or whatever get sworn statements from all medical and healing professionals who treated you. Also, get statements from friends or relatives who cared for you. Emphasize that you couldn’t get out of bed.
If you spoke to lawyers about helping you file a modification request, but you couldn’t afford the fee charged by some, be sure to come to court ready to sho’ the judge a list of names and lawyers you spoke to, the date you spoke to each one, and the fee the lawyer wanted to charge. If you tried to hire a legal aid lawyer to help you but you made too much money to qualify for such assistance (or the office doesn’t handle child support modifications), make sure you note the name of the lawyer and the date you spoke to her.
The burden of proving to the judge that you had legitimate reasons for not paying and not coming to court to request a modification is on you. The difference between carrying your burden and not carrying your burden may be the difference between going to jail and having the court order a repayment plan you can live with.17
Show cause hearings re: contempt used to be the major child support enforcement technique available. Today they are still used, but a little less frequently. This is because parents in arrears 30 days or more must have their wages withheld. Also, throwing a parent in jail for not paying his child support has not proven to be effective. Finally, executing property liens, posting bonds and intercepting tax refunds are easier and more successful methods of child support collection.