Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support in Utah?

Throughout the state of Utah and across the entirety of the United States, there are many divorced parents who are required as part of a court order to pay child support, typically to the parent or guardian who serves as the child’s primary caretaker. While most individuals willingly comply with their child support obligations, some try to get out of paying, while others simply fall behind due to life factors like a job loss or reduced income. In either case, failing to address your back child support payments could lead the court to impose serious penalties, including jail time in some cases. Below, the skilled Salt Lake City child support attorney like those at Overson & Bugden explain what might happen if you fail to pay child support as ordered by the court and how we can help you resolve your issues.

When and How Does a Utah Court Order Child Support?

When parents get divorced or are never married in the first place, they need to come to an arrangement about a multitude of different things. First, they need to decide whether one parent will be the primary caretaker of the child, such that their residence is the child’s primary home, and when and how the other parent will be allowed visitation rights or part-time custody of the child. The parent who is the primary caretaker is labeled the “custodial parent” under Utah law, while the other parent is the non-custodial parent.

Typically, the non-custodial parent will be required to pay child support to the custodial parent, to cover such expenses as food, housing, tuition, and more. Many times the two parents are able to come to an amicable agreement among themselves or with a mediator about child support payments, and the matter will never have to go to the court. However, if one parents is not making payments as promised or if the two parties cannot reach an agreement on their own, the matter will be taken before a judge in family court. The judge will use a number of factors to determine how much child support is owed and when and how it must be paid, including both parents’ income information as well as any special needs the child may have.

What Happens if I Fail to Pay Child Support in Utah?

If the noncustodial parent has fallen behind on court-ordered child support payments, the custodial parent will have the option to go back before the judge and to request that they enforce the order. At this point, the judge will have several different options. As soon as you learn that the court has been informed of your late payments, you should contact an experienced child support attorney like those at Overson & Bugden as soon as possible so we can get to work quickly on mitigating any damage and bringing the matter to a successful resolution for you.

Attempting to Bring You Back into Compliance

First, the court staff will likely make official notice to you that your payments are past due and give you a chance to come back into compliance by making payments or by modifying the order to reflect a new financial situation on your part. An experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden can help you explain any change of circumstance, such as loss of a job or birth of a new child, that should be considered in reassessing the amount of support due each month.

Non-Criminal Penalties

If you are not able to be reached or brought back into compliance, the judge will likely consider non-criminal penalties first. Such penalties could include garnishing your wages in order to pay the back support owed, issuing a judgement against you that could affect your credit, placing a levy on your bank account, or intercepting all or part of your tax refund. They are also able to order a suspension of your driver’s license until your payments are made or an agreement is reached.

Criminal Penalties

There are also two other options the judge has, both of which could result in you spending time in jail. The first is to hold you in contempt of court and issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Typically, police do not seek you out to enforce a bench warrant like they do with an arrest warrant. However, once the warrant is issued, you can be arrested anytime you come into contact with law enforcement, including at a routine stop for a traffic ticket where the officer will almost always run a warrant check. The best way to deal with a bench warrant is to contact an experienced bench warrant attorney like those at Overson & Bugden before you get arrested. We can work to get you before a judge and get the warrant quashed without you being arrested or sent to jail.

In some cases, the prosecutor can also choose to file a separate charge against you called “criminal nonsupport.” The statute states that the crime can be charged when someone who has a spouse or child under 18 knowingly fails to pay court-ordered support and the person receiving the support is in needy circumstances or would be in needy circumstances if not for the assistance of someone other than the defendant. Usually, this is only charged in the most severe cases where an individual has blatantly refused to pay despite having the resources to do so.

When criminal nonsupport is charged, it is usually a class A misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail and $2,500 in fines. If you have been previously convicted of this or a substantially similar crime in or outside of Utah, or if you missed payments for 18 months in a row or are more than $10,000 in debt, the charge will be upped to a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail and $5,000 in fines.

If You Are Behind on Child Support Payments, Call Our Skilled Utah Child Support Lawyers Today

Failing to pay child support in Utah, and not doing anything to notify the court that you are having some sort of hardship, is usually going to lead to consequences. While some of them may be financial only, like garnishing wages, others can have a long-term impact, like a bad credit rating, a bench warrant, or a criminal record for criminal non-support. At Overson & Bugden our lawyers can help get you back into compliance before you end up facing the most serious penalties like jail time. Call us at (801) 758-2287 today for a free consultation.