The payment and collection of child support can be a contentious issue between parents following separation or divorce. The issue can be a sensitive one even when the obligor is making regular payments. However, if the party with the support obligation fails or refuses to make payments, the tension between the parties almost always intensifies. What mechanisms does the Court then have to ensure the obligor pays support and to ensure that the party in need receives regular payments?
First, the Court has the power to find an individual who has failed to pay support in contempt of court. If a Judge finds a party in contempt for failing to pay a support obligation, the Judge can sentence him or her to serve up to 6 months in jail for each support case. Therefore, if a father has two children, one each to different mothers, he could face a total of 1 year in jail for failing to pay support to them.
The purpose of threatening jail time is to provide an obligor an incentive to pay support regularly. The obligor may, at any time, purge the arrears balance and be released immediately. In addition, county jails will offer work release so that an obligor can continue to go to work to earn enough to pay the balance due. Finally, county jails will help an unemployed obligor find work and permit him or her to attend daily so that he or she may purge the contempt and be released.
Finally, the Pennsylvania legislature has enacted statutes that permit the support collection department to intercept certain payments to an obligor if he or she has an outstanding arrears balance. For example, if an obligor is expecting an income tax refund, that refund will be intercepted by the collection department and will be used to make up for any arrears. Additionally, if an individual wins a personal injury settlement following a lawsuit, those proceeds will be used to repay any arrears amount the obligor owes as long as the settlement is for at least $5,000.00.
The most important thing to the Court is that an obligor pays support regularly. Child support belongs to the child and the Court considers it a monthly bill just like gas or electric. The only difference is that the gas company can't incarcerate you for failure to pay. If you are facing a contempt hearing for failure to pay support or if you are headed to court to confront a party that has failed to pay, contact my Pittsburgh Family Law office, Gusty A.E. Sunseri & Associates, for an experienced attorney to review your case.