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Many of our previous articles have taken a light tone to some topics. This will not be one of those posts. The simple question, “Can I go to jail for not paying child support?” does not get asked casually. Only two reasons exist to ask this: either you are exploring the option of not paying, or you haven’t been paying and wonder if you will end up in jail.

Shortest Answer: Yes

The Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS) maintains an office, the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) that relentlessly tracks down and extracts child support payments from deadbeat parents. You may find the term harsh, but we as attorneys do not. We work hard to reach equitable and livable solutions for both ex-husband and ex-wife, and that includes providing for child support. The non-custodial parent has a responsibility to continue caring for her or his children. When either non-custodial parent does not comply with the efforts of our offices, the courts, and the DSS, we see innocent children hurt.

The DCSE cannot, itself, jail a parent for failure to pay child support. The question, though, comes up often enough that it makes the Frequently Asked Questions page of DCSE. You will not like the other part of the answer: “… it is a judge’s decision whether to order a jail sentence. A noncustodial parent who is found to be in civil contempt for failure to pay child support can be sentenced to up to 12 months incarceration.”

The DCSE’s Steps for Non-payers

If you are on the path to being a “deadbeat Dad,” along the way the DCSE will politely remind you to pay up. Child support enforcement agencies are in every Virginia county. They are fully staffed, they know what they are doing, and they use an escalating scale of interventions, beginning with administrative enforcement:

  1. Income Execution — Virginia orders of child support are required to provide for immediate wage withholding; this compels employers to deduct the child support obligation amount, plus an additional amount to reduce arrears (if any), and forward the money directly to the support collection unit
  2. Income Tax Refund Offset — Your state or federal income tax refund can be intercepted and applied to the repayment of the past due support or arrears
  3. Lottery Prize Offset — Lottery prizes in excess of $600 are intercepted by the DCSE and applied to the repayment of the past due support or arrears
  4. Driving Privilege Suspension — The Virginia State Department of Motor Vehicles will, at the DCSE’s direction, suspend your driving privileges
  5. Property Execution — DCSE will seize bank accounts and apply the proceeds to the repayment of past due support or arrears
  6. Liens — DCSE can place liens against your real or personal property; the lien prevents the sale or transfer of property until the past due support or arrears are repaid
  7. Referral to the Tax Department — Virginia’s State Department of Taxation and Finance (DTF) is authorized to employ all methods available for the collection of past due taxes to the collection of past due child support
  8. Credit Bureau Reporting — Arrears are presented to credit bureaus by DCSE as a bad debt; this action is likely to negatively affect your ability to obtain credit

Then Jail?

After administrative enforcement by DCSE, if you are still a “deadbeat Dad,” the agency will move for court-ordered enforcement. This is the slippery slope to the slammer.

If you fathered a child when you were still a minor, your child support issues must go to court. For anyone else, the court will receive DCSE’s referral when your child support is 90 days or more past due. Expect a summons to appear in court, at which time the judge will, perhaps impatiently, listen to your reasoning and then take one of these actions:

  • Suspend your business, professional, or occupational license
  • Require posting of an undertaking; that is, a large amount of money paid up front and drawn against for future child support payments
  • Put you on probation
  • Remand you to jail for six to 12 months

The hearing may reveal your willful refusal to pay the order of support; then the court will also order you to pay your ex-wife’s (or the state’s) attorney’s fees.

Do the Right Thing: Contact The Child Support Lawyers for Men

As attorneys with the utmost respect for the laws of Virginia, we encourage you to fulfill your legal obligation, but we also remind you, politely, that the money is intended to keep your children living comfortably. Consider who you are hurting by not paying the child support — not your ex-wife, certainly, but your own children. At The Firm for Men we vigorously defend our clients in all types of civil actions, but we also respect Virginia’s most helpless citizens, its children. If you need advice on child support issues, call our child support lawyers at 757-383-9184 to schedule a consultation. Our family law firm is centrally located in Virginia Beach and have been serving the men of Hampton Roads for over a decade!

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