If you have a change in circumstances and begin to fall behind in child support payments, you must address non-payment of child support. There can be serious consequences for falling behind on your child support, including criminal charges if you fall far enough behind. The State of Mississippi can also revoke your driver’s license. The court can find you in contempt of court, and incarcerate you based upon the civil contempt. Federal and State refunds can be intercepted for non-payment. See Q&A: CHILD SUPPORT DEBT for additional information.
Child support in Mississippi does end at a very specific time—age twenty-one (21) years. Many individuals believe that child support ends when a child reaches age eighteen (18) years; however, the age of majority in Mississippi is age twenty-one (21) years. Child support may end prior to age twenty-one (21) years unless emancipation of the child occurs prior to that age.
When a parent is behind in child support he/she has a child support arrearage. The law allows for a credit to be made for child support payments through additional child support payments; however, it does not permit the payments to be “purged” by agreement of the parties or court order. Parents cannot contract away child support arrearage, and cannot contract away a child’s right to future support. Mississippi law is clear that court ordered child support payments vest as they accrue, and may not be modified or forgiven after they are vested. The benefit belongs to the child, and the custodial parent has a fiduciary duty to utilize the payments for the support of the child.
A finding of civil contempt of court is designed to coerce a party into complying with the court order. The guilty party can gain release of civil contempt by complying with the court’s order. If the judge orders that the party should be jailed for his/her civil contempt, he/she can gain immediate release by purging him/herself of contempt by complying with the order of the court.
If a parent is behind in his/her court ordered child support obligation he/she may be found in contempt of court. When a party is held in contempt for violating a valid judgment of the court, Mississippi law states that attorney’s fees should be awarded to the party that has been forced to seek the court’s enforcement of its own judgment. Attorney fees awarded based upon contempt; however, should not exceed the attorney’s time and expenses incurred as a result of the contemptuous conduct. Additionally, the successful party in a contempt action is not required to show that he/she could not pay the representing attorney.
One of the maxims of equity is, “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands.” The doctrine acts as a form of estoppel. For example, the court can estop one party from obtaining a judgment of contempt when he/she failed to comply with the court’s order. The clean hands doctrine is purely defensive in nature, and cannot be used by a party to obtain rights to which he/she would otherwise not be entitled. A party does not have to include the “clean hands doctrine” in its pleading; however, the court may apply it on its own motion when it comes into play during the litigation.
Contempt refers to behavior which disobeys or disrespects the authority and dignity of a court. An attorney can minimize the risk of a charge of contempt of court by assisting his/her client in arguing on the client's behalf. Additionally, particularly in child support matters, it may be possible that an attorney can assist you in negotiating an agreement which addresses the payment of back child support in a manner where it is not necessary for the court to address the contempt matter. It is very important to address non-payment of child support given that it can have consequences beyond a finding that you are in contempt of court, including the possibility of incarceration.
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