Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support in San Diego?

Child support is an amount that one parent is contractually obligated to pay the other after a divorce or legal separation involving children. Child support payments help guarantee that the child of a divorce enjoys the same quality and standard of living that he or she had while the parents were still together. If one parent fails to meet his or her child’s support obligation in San Diego, jail time is a possibility, as the courts take this offense seriously.

Child Support Is a Legal Obligation 

Child support payments are not optional. If a parent is ordered to pay child support as part of a divorce settlement or judgment, he or she must fulfill this legal obligation without fail. Falling behind on child support payments (known as being in arrears) or refusing to pay an ex-spouse child support is against the law. While a parent who misses a child support payment will not immediately be arrested, the penalties can increase in severity as the period of arrears continues. Eventually, the continued refusal to pay child support could lead to jail time in San Diego.

Penalties for Not Paying Child Support in San Diego

If you fail to pay your ex-spouse child support payments on time and in the amount required by your divorce agreement, your ex will have the right to take legal action against you. Your ex-spouse has the right to ask the courts to enforce the child support order, for example. This will start with your ex filing a motion for contempt. This means that a judge agrees that you have willfully disobeyed a court order and should face penalties.

If you are held in contempt of court for child support nonpayment in California, you could face the following:

  • Bank levies
  • Wage garnishment
  • License suspension (driver’s, professional, business, fishing, etc.)
  • Property liens
  • Intercepted tax returns
  • Intercepted lottery winnings
  • Credit score damage
  • Passport denial
  • Fines
  • Jail time

Most of these repercussions aim to obtain the money that you owe your ex-spouse in child support. However, some are designed to penalize you for nonpayment. Being made to pay a fine for past due child support, for example, is a way for the courts to punish you and discourage future refusal to pay. A parent held in contempt of court for failing to pay child support could also be given jail time.

When Can Child Support Nonpayment Result in Jail?

There are two types of contempt of court: civil and criminal. Both types could potentially lead to jail time, but jail is more common with the criminal type of contempt. Being held in criminal contempt means that the California Department of Child Support Services has referred your case for prosecution. This could lead to your arrest and charges filed against you. You may have to pay a fine or serve a specific amount of time in jail as punishment for this offense. 

You could also serve time for being held in civil contempt of court. In this case, you will be released as soon as you pay off a certain amount in past due child support debt. The courts in California also have the option of ordering a combination of penalties: both civil and criminal contempt of court. How long you may have to spend in jail depends on the circumstances, such as how much you owe in unpaid child support and the sentence that a judge orders according to your actions.

What to Do if Your Spouse Isn’t Paying Child Support

If you are the parent who is owed child support by your ex-spouse in San Diego, you have rights if he or she is refusing to pay. Start by contacting a child support attorney for assistance. An attorney can go over your options and help you file the required motions for a remedy, such as a motion to hold your ex-spouse in contempt of court. There are ways the courts can make your co-parent pay, such as garnishing his or her wages. If your ex-spouse still refuses to pay, he or she could face jail time.