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Penalties for Non-Payment of Child Support that Could Lead to Jail Time

By Iafrate & Salassa

view in a jail cell from the perspective of a delinquent payer of child support who now needs the help of Bloomfield Hills criminal law attorneys

It is generally known that state governments take the non-payment of child support seriously and typically are diligent about pursuing parents who fall behind. State governments place a heavy emphasis on this issue, because, often, the custodial parents who are not receiving child support must resort to public assistance benefits in order to provide for their families. This reality spurs many states, Michigan included, to impose a number of penalties on delinquent parents to prompt them to make the required payments. The Friend of the Court is responsible for enforcing child support orders in this state, and some the administrative penalties it uses to compel compliance include income withholding, seizing tax refunds, placing a lien against real estate owned by the parent, suspending licenses, and filing a negative report to credit agencies. Along with these regulatory consequences for non-payment, courts also have the authority to issue bench warrants for the arrest of parents who do not pay child support under a procedure of law called civil contempt. Even more serious, Michigan has a law that permits prosecutors to file criminal felony charges against parents who refuse to pay.

Civil Contempt

Civil contempt proceedings are used if a non-custodial parent refuses to pay child support and previously-issued income withholding have failed to secure payment, usually because the parent refused to hold steady employment or has frequently changed employers to evade court attempts to impose income withholding. In these situations, the Friend of the Court or the custodial parent can petition the court to hold a show cause hearing. This hearing requires the delinquent parent to appear and explain why he/she repeatedly and continuously failed to pay child support. If the parent does not show up for the hearing, the court has the option to issue a bench warrant for the parent’s arrest that law enforcement can execute anywhere in the state. Once the parent is apprehended, he/she must remain in jail until the contempt hearing unless a bond is posted worth at least $500 or 25 percent of the arrears, whichever is greater. Further, the parent may be required to pay all costs associated with the civil contempt hearings, the warrant, and arrest, and the parent’s car may be booted to limit the parent’s ability to leave the area.

Felony Criminal Charges for Non-Support

Criminal charges are the next step if civil contempt is unsuccessful in collecting payment. There are two types of non-payment of support felonies – abandoning a child and refusing to support him/her and failing to pay child support in accordance with a court order. County prosecutors and the Attorney General (AG) are in charge of filing these charges and will only do so if other enforcement methods were unsuccessful. The specific criteria used to determine if charges should be filed are established through collaboration by county prosecutors, the AG, and the Friend of the Court. For example, Wayne County requires the non-custodial to be behind on child support by at $5,000, has the ability to pay support, and the parent was previously held in contempt. The AG, by contrast, requires an arrearage of $10,000 and payments made in the previous six months must account for less than 51 percent of what was due. The possible penalties for this offense are up to four years in prison, a fine up to $2,000, or both. However, a court will suspend the sentence if the parent posts a bond in an amount acceptable to the court and begins to comply with the support order.

Talk to a Family Law Attorney

If you are struggling to collect child support from an ex-spouse, it is important to initiate enforcement procedures early on because the farther a person gets behind, the more likely they are to avoid payment due to the sheer amount involved. The Clinton Township law firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. regularly represents clients in child support cases and will work on your behalf to make sure the other parent pays. Contact us to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

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