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What is 'contempt' in North Carolina child support cases?

The duty of parents to provide financial support for their children is one that is enshrined in both North Carolina and federal law. Because parents are responsible for the existence of a child, they must be held accountable for the care and maintenance of him or her. Thus, when a couple with children splits up, either through a divorce or simply by ceasing to live together, the state can step in and require the parent who is not living with the child to contribute to the child's maintenance by ordering child support payments.

Of course, just because someone has been ordered to make regular payments doesn't mean that he or she will always do so, and in the correct amounts. When a noncustodial parent (NCP) fails to make all of his or her ordered support payments, that NCP will be considered to be delinquent. In North Carolina, as elsewhere, there are legal steps that can be taken by a custodial parent to attempt to enforce a child support order.

One of these steps is a motion for contempt of court. Generally, this is a civil action, but might still result in an order of jail time in certain circumstances. Basically, such a motion states that there is a legal order to pay a certain amount of child support on a certain schedule, the NCP has the ability to make those payments, and that he or she has failed to make them. Thus, the motion asks that the NCP be found to be in contempt of court for failing to abide by the order.

There is usually a hearing scheduled on the matter, and the NCP must appear and explain why the support has not been paid as ordered. If the court finds that the delinquent parent is in contempt, then it will often set an amount of money to be paid by the NCP to 'purge' him- or herself of the contempt. This amount must be based upon what the NCP is able to pay. If the purge is not paid, or the NCP has received proper notice of the hearing and fails to appear, he or she may end up in jail.

There are other methods to attempt to enforce child support orders, and usually, jail time is a last resort, as people in jail generally have a harder time making money to pay the support, and having the child supported is the real aim of the family courts. However, when necessary, North Carolina courts will show they are serious in collecting child support by holding delinquent parents in contempt.

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