Support Enforcement: The Power of Contempt of Court

March 22, 2010

By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

Hennepin County Court Judge Jay Quam told a local businessman that if he couldn’t prove that he was broke, he would go to jail for failing to pay support to his ex-wives.

This is part of the support enforcement process. If a payor fails to make child support or spousal maintenance payments, the payee (recipient of support) can ask the Court to issue an Order to Show Cause which will require the payor to appear in Court and prove why they should not be held in contempt. If the Court finds that there is no good reason why they didn’t pay support (i.e. they were unemployed through no fault of their own), it may order incarceration until such time as the payments are made.

Usually, jail is a last resort, since it is very difficult to obtain compliance with a support order from jail. Before a person is ordered to jail, they may be required to make some small token payments of support and participate in a job search program. However, the threat of going to jail can be a useful tool in enforcing support judgments.

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