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Court Has Power to Order Jail Time for Willful Failure to Pay Child Support 

June 20, 2016

A recent N.Y. Court of Appeals case, Matter of Columbia County Support Collection Unit v. Risley, 2016 N.Y. LEXIS 1603, 2016 NY Slip Op 04325 (N.Y. June 7, 2016), may be of interest for those involved in family law matters, specifically the regulations governing child support.

The Court of Appeals found jail time an appropriate remedy for a father who willfully failed to pay child support repeatedly. In this case, the father never claimed an inability to pay the support payments—he simply did not meet his court-ordered support obligations.

By neglecting these payments and flouting the court’s orders, Mr. Risley was reprimanded multiple times by the court. This failure to pay child support occurred repeatedly, and was classified by the court as ‘willful flaunting of support orders.’

Both in 2010 and 2012 this father’s conduct resulted in a substantial amount owed in unpaid payments and two suspended orders of commitment. These suspended orders of commitment were conditioned upon the father making timely child support payments.

The father violated a prior order for a third time in 2013, which resulted in Family Court revoking the two suspended orders for the past violations and sentenced the father to a new six-month sentence, which resulted in a total of three consecutive six-month sentences.

As in prior instances, the father made no attempt to plead either an inability to pay the child support payments or to seek a modification of the support orders.

It was subsequently determined by the Family Court that the father willfully failed to comply with his child support obligations on three separate violations and therefore found good cause existed to revoke the father’s two suspended commitments.

The lesson learned from this case is that it is best to communicate with the court if there ever is an instance in which it is difficult to pay child support on time. It’s more efficient and effective to negotiate a payment schedule than it is to be found guilty of willful failure to pay child support and sentenced to jail time.

New York State prioritizes the enforcement of child support obligations, and this case is a prime example of that prioritization.