Some parents go to jail for unpaid child support

Some noncustodial parents in Florida and around the country who do not make child support payments on time end up serving jail sentences as a result. Although some people believe that the threat of jail time is an effective incentive for parents to make child support payments on time, others view the policy as unfair to lower-income parents.

Sending parents to jail for unpaid child support is generally the last resort after other enforcement measures have failed. A parent who owes back child support may have their wages garnished by up to 65 percent and authorities may seize their bank account balances and tax refunds. Before a parent is handed a jail sentence for back child support, they could also lose their driver's license and other professional licenses.

Some critics of current child support enforcement policies say that low-income parents end up being trapped in a debt cycle. If the child support order was not affordable for them in the first place, a parent may end up owing an overwhelming amount of money. After becoming unemployed, some parents are so destitute that jail is the only enforcement measure authorities can use against them. Once parents are released from jail, many are told that they have three months to pay their outstanding child support balance. If they are unable to do so, these parents could be sent back to jail.

Many parents who sanctioned for their failure to comply with child support orders are not aware of the recourse that they may have. A noncustodial parent who becomes unemployed or suffers another kind of adverse financial change may be able to obtain a modification of an existing order upon a showing to the court that the change in circumstances was the reason for the inability to make the required payments.

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