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Penalties for not Paying Child Support: Imprisonment

Parents who are behind on their child support obligation may be found in contempt of court. In Georgia, the punishment a court may impose on an individual found in contempt may take several forms. One such punishment is imprisonment.   Thus, a parent who is found to be in contempt of court as a result of his or her willful refusal to abide by the court’s child support order may find him or herself in jail. In fact, the court may order that the non-paying parent remain imprisoned until that parent complies with the court’s order.

Only parents who demonstrate they are unwilling to become current on their obligation will be punished to this extent.

It may seem counterintuitive to imprison someone who is in arrears for child support as imprisonment will hamper that parent’s ability to work in order to provide the support. However, Georgia law makes allowances that correct this problem. According to O.C.G.A. §15-1-4, “When a person who is gainfully employed violates an order of the court granting temporary or permanent alimony or child support and the judge finds the person in contempt of court, the sentencing judge may sentence the respondent to a term of confinement in a diversion center and participation in a diversion program if such a program has been established by [the] county. O.C.G.A. § 15-1-4(c). Thus, although imprisoned, the parent in contempt may continue to work. This way, the parent who is in arrears may work toward paying off his or her arrearage amount.

The policy behind Georgia’s law is to ensure compliance with court orders concerning child support and to send a message to those who do not comply that non-compliance is not acceptable. It is only those parents who demonstrate to the court that they are unwilling to become current on their child support obligation who will be punished to this extent. Thus it is important, if at all possible, to comply with your court order concerning child support. If you are unable to comply, inform your co-parent to seek an agreement to lower your monthly obligation. If this is unsuccessful, inform the court presiding over your case or contact an attorney regarding initiating an action to modify your child support. Regardless, even if you cannot pay in full, attempt to make the largest payment towards your obligation as possible.  It may not completely alleviate your contempt, but it could go a long ways towards lessening the punishment that the court may invoke.