Support Contempt actions are instituted once a Payor, for what can be a multitude of reasons, falls behind or fails to pay his or her Support obligation through the statewide PACSES system or through some other Agreement entered into between parties to a support or alimony action. Punishment mechanisms are statutorily in place if necessary to respond to these issues, but punishment is not the main purpose of a contempt action. The Court’s primary concern is having the Payor pay his or her obligation.
A Petition for Contempt can be filed by the Payee at any time or by the Domestic Relations Section itself. Should a Payor fail to appear for the Hearing, the Court may issue a Bench Warrant as provided by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure for failure of a properly served Payor to appear for the Hearing.
The failure to pay alone is not a sufficient reason for a Contempt Order to be entered. The Court spends a substantial period of time in a Hearing assessing the “ability to pay” by the Payor. The Payor will be questioned on his or her income and expenses and will be provided an opportunity to respond to any inquiries about his or her ability to pay. Since one’s freedom is always an issue (one possible punishment for the willful failure to pay can be incarceration), legal counsel is provided by the Payor’s own private counsel or on-call counsel provided by the Court.
The Payor should always bring money, and as much as they can bring, on the day of the hearing. A good faith payment of a sufficient amount will likely keep a Payor out of jail. Remember, the main purpose of a Support Contempt hearing, from both the Assistant District Attorney’s perspective and the Court’s perspective, is to get a Respondent “back on track” and resuming their regular payments to the Payee.
Also, bring supporting documentation of inability to work for health reasons and bring proof of your expenses.
There is the possibility that the Payor will be punished. These punishments can include:
- Imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months;
- A fine not to exceed $1,000.00; and
- Probation of not more than one year.
Once a finding of contempt has been made or, sometimes, without a finding of contempt and once in Court for falling behind in support payments, the Court will want to monitor a Payor’s Order into the future, by scheduling return Court dates for the Payor to attend and remain current in their Order. During this time, not only will the Payor need to remain current in their payments, but the Court will require the Payor to bring additional money to Court in order to catch up on their arrears. A Payor, in general, wants to avoid getting themselves in this process. Keeping current on a Support Order should be a Payor’s prime objective.
Being in arrears in your payment is not a pleasant situation to be in. With the possibility of incarceration, having experienced legal counsel can be very important. Certainly, that is your choice. However, if you wish to discuss your options, we are happy to do so.