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Yes... You may be placed in jail for up to six months for not paying child support. The legal basis for placing you in jail is "contempt of court." Contempt of court is a legal term that means you are not following a court order. You may also be fined up to $500 for each violation and have to pay attorney's fees and court costs.

You have the right to be represented by an attorney throughout a contempt proceeding. If two conditions are satisfied, you also have the right for the government to provide you with that attorney free of charge:

  • You must prove that your income is very low or you have no income; and
  • The result of the hearing must be that you are likely to be placed in jail.

In some cases, the law allows you to be imprisoned for a specific amount of time and/or pay a fine. This happens when you are criminally prosecuted and imprisoned for nonpayment, which is a felony. As of September 1, 1999, a felony conviction is sufficient to deport someone who is not a citizen of the United States.

And your child support order will continue while you are in jail. You will need to petition the court to ask for a reduction in your child support amount based on what you can earn while in jail or in prison. While this may be difficult, it is extremely important that you try to do this. It is up to the court to determine whether to decrease your child support because you have been imprisoned.

Many non-custodial fathers believe that if they get behind at a time when they are legitimately unable to make a payment, what they owe can later be reduced or discounted by the court when an explanation is given. However, if you wait to explain your changed circumstances, the court will be unable to reduce the back payments you owe. So it is very important that you notify the court immediately, provide proof of the reduction in income, and ask that your payments be reduced accordingly. If you do this, the court may temporarily or permanently reduce the amount of future payments.

If your child support order has been reduced or suspended while you are in prison, your release is considered a material and substantial change in circumstances. When there is a material and substantial change in circumstance, the court must change your child support order. As a result, the amount you pay in child support will likely increase to reflect your earning capacity after your release from prison. Before there will be an increase in your child support amount, the court will have to be asked and agree to change the amount of child support you owe.

From the Texas Q and A Handbook for Non-Custodial Parents, Office of John Cornyn, Texas Attorney General

Fathers For Equal Rights empowered me to do the right thing for my son through critical knowledge, and strategic access to affordable legal assistance.
  -- David A. - Dallas, TX

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