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A support order must be complied with rigorously. Intentionally failing to pay support, whether it is child or spousal support, is contempt. The penalties for contempt of a support order can be severe. Generally, a person found in contempt of a support order will be put in jail.
The period of jail time, for first offenders, is generally 30 days in Pennsylvania or the payment of some pre-determined amount. The Judge will generally find that the Defendant must pay a certain percentage of the unpaid amount or be placed in jail for a certain period of time. The percentage varies from Judge to Judge, but is generally between 20% and 50% of the outstanding amount. If a person is incarcerated for 30 days, for example, the order will usually indicate that if payment of a certain dollar amount is made before the 30 days ends, the Defendant can be permitted to leave at the time of payment.
For second and further contempt findings, the period of time in jail usually increases. For example, 30 days for the first offense, 60 for the second, 90 for the third, and so on. However, each Judge is different in his or her handling of the contempt situation.
Failure to pay contempt is a criminal violation and the Defendant is entitled to a Public Defender if the Defendant cannot afford an attorney.
In order to avoid the Contempt Petition being filed against you, file for a Modification of Support in the event circumstances change (you are fired from you job, for example) and you will unavoidably miss support payments. If you have lost your job and cannot make your payments, don’t just fail to make the payments without filing to modify your support order.