I have two contempt charges and have been ordered to pay back the arrears I owe, which have been deducted weekly from my paycheck.
Last week I was laid off and I can’t afford an attorney. My court date is next week and I am worried I will have to go to jail.
What steps do I need to take?
I do not practice law in your state and therefore cannot provide you with specific information or procedures. However, I can offer you some insight to your situation to be discussed with a family law processional whom practices in your jurisdiction.
There are a few issues raised in your questions. The first issue appears to be that you previously owed and/or currently owe back support. The remedies available to the court are dependent on your jurisdiction as well as where you are in the court process.
The result of your court date will be dependent on how many times you have allegedly violated an order of court and the proof that you can produce in response to these allegations. You should bring with you all proof that you have made payments towards the amount owed. This may include things like bank statements, cancelled checks or paystubs.
You indicate that you have a sentencing hearing. If you have had several court appearances in relation to this matter, the court may have the ability to incarcerate you.
The chances that you will be sent to jail may be reduced if you can show that you have made an effort to the best of your financial ability to pay towards your outstanding support obligation. This may mean making partial payments towards your obligation while you are not employed.
You should bring proof of the efforts you have made to make payments and your expenses and other obligations. You also may be able to avoid incarceration if you are able to make a lump sum payment at the court proceeding.
A second issue is if your support obligation remains the same even if there has been a change of income. If you are looking to modify the terms of the current support order, you should consider filing a request for a modification.
As long as your state’s law resembles Pennsylvania law, a party can ask that their child support obligation be modified based on a change in circumstances. The court may consider a change in income as a change in circumstances but may investigate the reason for the change in income.
If the change in income was done voluntarily, the court has the authority to assess the party with an earning capacity based on their past earnings. This is something that you should speak with a family law professional in your jurisdiction about as some states do not change a party’s support obligation until a modification is initiated even if the change of circumstances occurred prior to filing the modification. If that is the case in your state, time may be of the essence.
Remember, I am unable to provide you with anything more than tips on your situation, so please consult an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction to obtain specific advice as to the laws in your state and how they impact your potential case.