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Can a person who fails to pay child support in VA go to jail?

When a parent is required to pay child support in Virginia, it must be paid or there will be consequences. The penalties for not paying child support in its proper amount within the required time frame can vary. Many parents worry that they will be put in jail if they fail to pay. It's important to understand the facts of how the state's Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) operates in this type of situation.

The DCSE is not able to put noncustodial parents in jail if they don't pay their child support. However, it is possible for the state to file a petition requesting that jail time be one of the penalties that a person will face for failure to pay. It will be up to the judge to decide if a jail sentence is an appropriate punishment. If a parent who doesn't have custody of the child is found to be in contempt for not paying child support, there can be a jail sentence of up to one year. This is often the last option, but sometimes it's unavoidable for parents who refuse to catch up on their payments.

When a supporting parent is incarcerated, there is no method of collection for the DCSE. In some instances, there might be attachable assets or the supporting parent might be on a work-release program. Short of this, the support will remain unpaid while the parent is in jail. Interest could be added to what is owed during this time. In addition to the judge deciding whether or not a noncustodial parent will be jailed, it is also up to the judge when the parent will be released. Given that parents are frequently unable to pay while they're in jail, a judge will try to avoid a jail sentence unless it is absolutely necessary.

Parents who are owed child support and are not receiving the appropriate amount of support, based on the court order, will sometimes contact the state child support enforcement agency to try and get the other parent to pay as ordered. In some cases, that will lead to the noncustodial parent being incarcerated. For both the custodial and the noncustodial parent, understanding the law and how to ensure payments are up-to-date can be complicated. Discussing the matter with a legal professional experienced in state law is a sound way to avoid the worst case scenario of jail.

Source: Virginia Department of Social Services, "Child Support Frequently Asked Questions - Incarceration/Jail," accessed March 10, 2015

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