How to Avoid a Charge of Contempt of Court if you can No Longer Afford Your Support Payments

In family law, a finding of contempt is a way for the Court to “encourage” compliance with Family Court orders most often for child support, spousal support, custody, and visitation orders that one party has violated. Sometimes, circumstances change, and a party may be unable to maintain previously agreed upon support responsibilities. In these cases, it is best to petition the court as soon as the change occurs, to forestall the finding of contempt before it becomes necessary.

Pay any amount you can.

The simplest breakdown of what your first course of action should be is to at least continue to just pay something…any amount that you can manage shows that it is not unwillingness to pay that is behind the change in support. In the event of a contempt hearing, the judge will be less inclined to impose harsh penalties if a show of attempted payment can be proven. Not to mention it will show those who rely on that support that you want to uphold those obligations regardless of your own financial difficulties.

File Modification of Child Support Petition

This means providing detailed records that support your change in finances. It’s one thing to say, “my change in employment or sudden medical expenses make paying the agreed upon child support impossible”. Providing hard copies of the cost-of-living expenses as well as any hospital or doctor’s bills, as well as any unemployment you may receive, is a way to SHOW what financial straits you are in. Have you been forced to deplete your savings to get by or were you provided severance when you lost your job? These facts will provide evidence to your claim of hardship.

Provide a solution

Take the time to sit down and really think about how you can resolve the discrepancy between what you are able to provide and what is necessary for your children’s ability to thrive. Sometimes a solution may be that the out of work parent agrees to provide childcare during the work hours of the custodial parent. Day care is outrageously expensive these days, so removing that expense for any length of time can be a short-term solution if both parents are amenable and capable. Certainly, communication between parties is a good idea so that everyone is aware of realities of the situation, so that a filing of contempt can be avoided. Keeping a record of all attempts at such communication is also a good idea for both parties, if either is of the parties proves uncooperative.

Consult an attorney

It may seem counter intuitive when you are in financial difficulties to spend money on an attorney but being found in contempt can ultimately lead to jail time. At which point, no one is getting any financial aid for anything, and in the end, you will still owe back child support as well as any penalties accrued. It seems smarter to pay an experienced professional to gather all the information for you and work with the court so that it never gets that far.


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