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Contempt Proceedings in Divorce Cases

Can I Be Sent To Jail For Not Paying Child Support Or Alimony?

When a couple divorces, their divorce judgment outlines important obligations on both sides with respect to child support and custody, visitation, spousal support/alimony, the division of marital property and assets, and more. Both parties are required to abide by the terms of the divorce judgment. Willful failure to do so may give rise to a contempt proceeding against the non-complying party. A contempt of court proceeding can subject a party to serious punishment and consequences– including jail time.

Grounds for a contempt proceeding may include refusal to pay (or underpaying) the required amount of either child support or alimony/spousal support–or constantly being late on those payments. In addition, a parent can be held in contempt over child custody issues such as ignoring or interfering with established custody terms and visitation schedules, refusing access, or even relocating without notifying the other parent. Another potential trigger of a contempt proceeding occurs when a party doesn’t abide by court-ordered property division obligations and either fails to transfer or improperly transfers or sells property or assets.

In some cases, contempt is not intentional, but rather results from a change of circumstances that impacts the non-compliant party’s ability to abide by the terms of the divorce judgment or court order. Common examples may include the loss of a job or an immediate need for relocation. In such a case, it is best to seek a modification order from the Family Court, changing the support or custody and visitation terms to reflect the substantial change in circumstances. With jail time being a potential punishment, the worst thing you can do is ignore the problem and your obligations.

Because a party failing to pay support is often in financial trouble (and incarceration will only further negatively impact that party’s ability to pay), incarceration is not generally the initial punishment in a failure to pay support contempt proceeding. But contempt proceedings do land people in prison…  including celebrities and pro athletes.

Just ask one woman whose ex-husband is no longer a Saint.

Recently, a former New Orleans Saints professional football player was reportedly held in contempt and sent to jail for 30 days for failing to pay approximately $400,000 in child support and alimony/spousal support after the couple’s November 2015 divorce.

In addition to claiming her ex failed to make “most of” the required $20,000 per month support payments, she reportedly alleged her ex “secretly took $1.8 million” from accounts they shared and that he “caused more than $5.8 million to disappear” from their joint investment accounts. The athlete was reportedly fined “$500 for failing to bring written testimony from his manager” with respect to the money’s whereabouts. The athlete reportedly claimed has had to get by on borrowed money from “old NFL associates” and alleged that “former business associates stole millions of dollars” from him.

If you need help defending or initiating a contempt action, or would like to proactively seek a modification order to avoid contempt issues, Hebert Law offices can help. We’re dedicated exclusively to family law matters and have aggressively and successfully represented clients throughout Norfolk and Worcester counties from our office in Worcester, Massachusetts. Call today at (508) 206-9011to schedule your consultation.


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