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Jail time and the failure to pay child support

A Texas noncustodial parent who fails to pay court-ordered child support has the possibility of being sent to jail. While some believe that this provides incentive for noncustodial parents to pay on time, it could keep some in a cycle of debt. This is because the government may garnish wages or seize the bank accounts of those who are behind on their payments.

Some parents are released from prison and given as little as three months to catch up on back support owed. However, they are likely to end up back in prison because they are unable to do so. Research indicates that men who are classified as working poor are more likely to go to jail over unpaid child support.

Under federal law, up to 65 percent of an individual's paycheck can be garnished to pay back child support. It may also be possible to suspend drivers' or professional licenses and seize tax refunds until the debt is repaid. Although it is unclear how many parents go to jail nationally for failure to pay child support, a 2009 study in South Carolina found that one in eight inmates were in jail in that state for issues related to child support.

When parents get a divorce, one of them is often ordered by the court to pay child support to help the custodial parent pay for the cost of raising the child. Most courts place a high priority on timely support payments as they are considered an effective way to look out for the best interests of the child. However, there are often valid reasons why a parent who is under the obligation to pay support is unable to do so. Those whose financial circumstances have taken an adverse change due to unemployment or other factors may wish to seek the assistance of an attorney in filing a petition with the court for a modification of the order.

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