What Happens If You Do Not Pay Child Support?

If a Nevada court orders you to pay child support, failing to make payments can have significant consequences. Failure to pay the ordered amount may constitute a criminal offense under Nevada law, and the parent entitled to payment may use the contempt process to force compliance with the support order.

Criminal Offense of Nonsupport in Nevada

In NRS 201.020, state law establishes the criminal offense of nonsupport, which applies to both child support and spousal support (alimony). Section 1 of the statute states that a person who knowingly fails to make court-ordered support payments for a minor child, spouse, former spouse, or other child (as defined in the law) is guilty of a misdemeanor.  

Under Section 2 of the law, the offense becomes a category C felony if:

  • The amount of unpaid support is $10,000 or more (even for a first offense).
  • The charge is the second or subsequent offense and the amount owed is more than $5,000.
  •  The offense occurs in another state (but qualifies under Section 1 above) and the unpaid amount is $5,000 or more.

The penalty for misdemeanor nonsupport is up to six months in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both. Felony nonsupport carries a potential prison term of one to five years, a fine up to $10,000, or both. The court may also revoke the defendant’s driver’s license and order garnishment of wages. A conviction of a nonsupport charge can affect custody decisions of the court as well.

Under the Nevada statute, a criminal nonsupport charge may be filed in any county where:

  • The support order was issued
  • The defendant resides
  • The custodial parent (or other custodian) resides
  • The child resides

Representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney is strongly recommended if you face a nonsupport criminal charge in Nevada.

Contempt Proceeding for Nonsupport

In addition to the possibility of a criminal charge, a custodial parent who does not receive child support payments under a court order may file a contempt motion for violation of the support order. Getting assistance from a knowledgeable family law is advisable if you are a custodial parent wishing to initiate contempt proceedings.

When a contempt motion is filed, the court schedules a show-cause hearing within four to six weeks. The parent owing support must appear, or the court will issue a warrant for their arrest. After the hearing, the court usually orders the non-paying parent to become current in the support payments or be held in contempt of court. Potential punishments for contempt include jail or prison time, a fine, driver’s license revocation, and garnishment of wages.

A parent facing a contempt motion for failure to pay support should secure representation by an attorney before the show-cause hearing, rather than attempting to represent themselves in the contempt proceeding.

Defenses Against Nonsupport Charges

For a conviction on a nonsupport criminal charge, the law requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant “knowingly” failed to pay support ordered by the court. Evidence of intentional nonsupport may include circumstances in which a defendant is voluntarily unemployed to avoid paying support (or underemployed without a good reason) and is not using reasonable diligence to secure employment, or a defendant is unable to pay because of excessive spending and debts or other legal obligations.

The fact that the support payments were not made is usually sufficient for the court to assume that nonpayment was “knowing,” as required by the law. So, it is not a defense that the defendant did not know they were not making the required payments. However, viable defenses to a nonsupport charge may include evidence that a defendant diligently searched for a job but was unable to find employment, is too ill or incapacitated to work, or was in jail or prison and without funds to pay the support.

If you face a contempt charge for nonsupport or criminal charges for nonsupport, you should consult with a family law and criminal defense attorney who understands the laws and the nature of the proceedings. If you do not have legal representation, you may face potentially serious consequences.

Federal Nonsupport Criminal Charges

Federal law contains provisions relating to the crime of nonsupport that may apply in addition to the provisions of Nevada law, if the child and nonpaying parent live in different states. Federal law does not apply if the nonpaying parent and child both live in Nevada.

The federal nonsupport statute may apply when the noncustodial parent willfully does not pay support for a child who lives in another state or the parent traveled to another state with the intention of avoiding payment of child support. In addition, the period of nonpayment must exceed one year or exceed $5,000. 

In some cases, a defendant may face both federal and state nonsupport charges for the same violation of court-ordered child support. Generally, the defenses that apply to Nevada state charges also apply to federal criminal nonsupport charges.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Las Vegas Family Law and Criminal Defense Attorney

Las Vegas attorney Joseph Gersten assists custodial and noncustodial parents with issues relating to nonpayment of child support. His practice includes both family law and criminal defense, so he is well positioned to assist clients in nonsupport cases.

Your initial consultation at The Gersten Law Firm is always free of charge and without obligation. The firm serves clients in Las Vegas, Henderson, and elsewhere in Clark County. Call us at 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.