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Contempt of Court for Missing Child Support Payments

The duty to pay adequate financial support to provide for the needs of a child applies to all parents. Although child support disputes typically stem from divorce proceedings, this duty does not arise from the marital relationship. Instead, the duty to pay child support is a legal obligation arising from the parent-child relationship.

In divorce cases involving the custody of a minor child, courts will issue orders concerning the payment of child support from one parent to the other. Even in cases where the parties resolved questions of child custody and support through private settlement, the terms of the settlement are incorporated into the court’s final orders.

When a parent fails to honor their child support obligations under a valid court order, the other parent can seek enforcement of the court’s support order by asking the court to hold the noncompliant parent in contempt of court.

Tennessee Code § 29-9-102 authorizes courts to hold persons in contempt for the following reasons:

  • “The willful misbehavior of any person in the presence of the court, or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice;
  • The willful misbehavior of any of the officers of such courts, in their official transactions;
  • The willful disobedience or resistance of any officer of the courts, party, juror, witness, or any other person, to any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command of such courts;
  • Abuse of, or unlawful interference with, the process or proceedings of the court;
  • Willfully conversing with jurors in relation to the merits of the cause in the trial of which they are engaged, or otherwise tampering with them; or
  • Any other act or omission declared a contempt by law.”

Consequences of Contempt of Court

A person who is held in contempt of court may face either civil or criminal liability for their failure to pay child support under the court’s valid orders.

Under Tennessee Code § 29-9-103, a person who is held in contempt of court may face:

  • Up to a fine of $50
  • Imprisonment for up to 10 days in jail

In cases where a parent has failed to comply with their court-ordered child support obligations but still has the ability to comply in the future, Tennessee courts are empowered to impose fines or jail time until the delinquent parent decides to comply.

Tennessee Code § 29-9-104 states that “If the contempt consists in an omission to perform an act which it is yet in the power of the person to perform, the person may be imprisoned until such person performs it.”

Civil contempt is coercive in nature, since the noncompliant parent can end the imposition of fines and jail time when they decide to comply with the court’s orders. However, fines for civil contempt are limited to $50 a day.

Consult Casey, Simmons & Bryant, PLLC for Child Support Advice

Are you in need of an experienced attorney to advise you about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding a family law matter such as the enforcement of child support? At Casey, Simmons & Bryant, PLLC, we are here to guide you through complex issues arising under Tennessee family law, including legal questions concerning enforcement methods of divorce orders for things like child support.

Please call Casey, Simmons & Bryant, PLLC at (731) 256-0023 or contact our office online to arrange for a free initial case evaluation to discover the merits of your case.

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