How Can You Collect Child Support If Your Ex Stops Paying?

How Can You Collect Child Support If Your Ex Stops Paying?

A petition for civil contempt is one of the most effective ways to force a parent to pay child support if they simply have stopped paying. A petition for contempt is a document that asks the court to hold the parent in contempt for failing to pay child support. The court is given the power to hold the parent in contempt under Tenn. Code Ann. 29-9-104.

You may start the process by having your Tennessee lawyer draft the petition and filing it with the court. The delinquent parent (defendant) is then served with a copy and ordered to appear in court on a certain date to answer. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, they may ask the court to appoint one for them. The defendant will be required to complete a form called the Uniform Affidavit of Indigency. This document helps the court determine if the defendant really cannot afford an attorney. The next step is a hearing before the court.

At the hearing you must show several things in order to hold the defendant in contempt. You must show that there was an order requiring the defendant to pay child support (if you are divorced this will probably be in your final decree). You must show that the defendant failed to follow the order by not paying child support. These first two are usually fairly easy to establish. The third item that must be established is that the defendant was willful and deliberate in not paying child support. This basically means that they could have paid child support but didn’t. For example, if the defendant did not pay because they were in prison, they may have a defense.

If the defendant is held in contempt, the court can fine and/or incarcerate them in the county jail. Punishment for contempt  can be up to 10 days for each count. If a defendant has missed 5 payments, then they could go to jail for 50 days. In addition, the court may award the petitioner a judgment for the unpaid child support.

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3 thoughts on “How Can You Collect Child Support If Your Ex Stops Paying?

  1. I can’t help but wonder how imprisoning someone for any period of time helps the child. Given the Courts eager use of “the child’s best interest,” this seems completely counter-productive. The child doesn’t get the money b/c the parent is in jail and they definitely don’t get to see them. Seems pretty illogical to me.

  2. I think the purpose behind contempt is to motivate the parent to pay. It is very useful in a case where the parent has money and just won’t pay. In civil contempt the defendant has the keys to the jailhouse door, if they pay, they get released. Thus if a parent has 5k in the bank and is found in contempt for 1k of back support, all they have to do is write a check and the jailhouse door opens. Now if the parent really has no money and for whatever reason cannot earn enough to pay their support payments, they can go to court an request a modification because of changed circumstances. In a case like that I would agree that it is not logical to send the parent to jail. Under the law it has to be shown that they parent was willful in not paying.

  3. To Eric:
    If the custodial parent stopped supporting the children what do you think would happen?
    The might be in a lot of trouble for NEGLECT and Child abuse.
    If a NCP can’t or won’t support their children they should go to jail.
    Not paying doesn’t help the child, sitting in jail doesn’t either.
    At least it gets the non paying parent’s attention!

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