If you are the parent of a minor child who has been ordered to pay child support, you likely already know that if you fail to pay your child support as ordered, it is considered a violation of the court’s order and could lead to a finding of contempt of court. A Tennessee divorce attorney explains what contempt means and elaborates on what penalties you might face if the court finds you in contempt for failure to pay your child support.
Divorce in Tennessee – The Parenting Plan Requirement
When the parents of a minor child decide to divorce, the law requires the parents to submit a Parenting Plan to the court during the course of the subsequent divorce proceedings. A Parenting Plan can be thought of as a roadmap for co-parenting the child after the couple is divorced. Ata bare minimum, a Parenting Plan should include information such as who will have primary custody of the child, what the parenting time schedule will be with the child, how much child support is ordered to be paid and by which party, and what the plans are for resolving conflicts that crop up after the divorce is final. Clearly, the goal of a Parenting Plan is to minimize the effect of the divorce on any minor children of the marriage and to ensure that both parents remain active in the children’s lives after the divorce. Ideally, the parties create their own Parenting Plan after discussing, and agreeing to, the terms of the plan. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement regarding the terms of a Parenting Plan though, the court will intervene and decide the terms for the parties. Either way, once the court has accepted the Parenting Plan it becomes part of the final judgment of divorce.
Orders of the Court
People often fail to realize that a divorce is actually a type of civil lawsuit. The Petitioner is actually petitioning the court to grant him/her a divorce from the Respondent. As such, the final decree or judgment is a final order of the court. The provisions and terms contained in the final decree are, therefore, orders of the court. This includes the amount of child support ordered by the court. Once child support is ordered, whether through a divorce or through another type of lawsuit, such as a paternity action, the order is an order of the court. Failing to obey that order can subject an individual to all remedies available to the court for contempt of court.
What Is Contempt of Court?
Literally translated, contempt of court means that an individual has disrespected the authority of the court. In practical terms, it means that someone has disobeyed an order of the court. Contempt of court could occur because someone is being extremely rude and disrespectful to a judge while court is in session, because a party fails to appear for court as ordered by the court, or because someone has disregarded or disobeyed a direct order of the court. In the case of failure to pay child support, it is because someone has disobeyed an order of the court found in the final decree of divorce.
Consequences of Contempt
A judge has a considerable amount of authority when it comes to dealing with contempt of court. When the contempt is for failure to pay child support, the court’s response will often depend on the facts and circumstances of the payor (person ordered to pay support). If there is a good reason why the support is in arrears, the judge may be lenient; however, if there is no reason for the failure to pay support, the judge may deal with contempt harshly by imposing any of the following penalties:
- Order that future child support and arrearages be paid through a wage assignment order;
- Reduce the arrearage (amount owed) to judgment and be formally recorded in a court order;
- Determine the arrearage payment amount to be paid monthly;
- Reimburse the parent owed support for filing fees, court costs, and attorney’s fees for having to bring the petition to enforce child support;
- Award 12% simple interest on unpaid child support;
- Order the delinquent parent to pick up trash;
- Revoke certain licenses issued by the State of Tennessee including hunting and driving licenses;
- Find the delinquent parent in civil or criminal contempt;
- Order the parent to jail for a period of time or until a certain amount is paid (purge payment); and
- Order the delinquent to serve jail time for willful failure to pay child support.
Contact a Tennessee Divorce Attorney
If you are behind on your child support payments in Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced divorce attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.