No More Suspended Sentences for Support Contempt


No More Suspended Sentences for Support Contempt

As of January of 2020, judges are no longer permitted to hand out suspended sentences in child support contempt matters.  What does this mean, exactly?

A support contempt hearing takes place when a person obligated to pay child support is accused of not following the order and falls behind on payments.  If one is found to be in violation of a support order, the judge has several options available to get the person into compliance.  One popular option was the suspended sentence.

A suspended sentence is a sentence that does not start immediately, but rather starts after a violation.  For example, suppose a person is found to be in violation of a support order.  The judge would rather see the order paid than the person in jail, but would have no problem putting the person in jail if the order is not paid. In such a scenario, a judge could sentence the person to 30 days in jail, but suspend the sentence contingent upon timely payments.  In other words, if the person began making payments on time, he or she would not go to jail.  However, if a payment were missed, a warrant would be issued, and the person would be sent to jail for 30 days without a violation hearing.

At least, that was an option until this year. On January 22, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that suspended sentences were illegal.  Even though suspended sentences were popular, the statute governing support contempt hearings only gives the judge three options if one is found in contempt:  imprisonment up to six months, a fine up to $1,000, or probation for up to a year.  Because a suspended sentence was not explicitly authorized, the court ruled them to be illegal.

So what does this mean?  While a judge can no longer hand out a suspended sentence in support matters, a judge can still order a period of probation.  Then, if payments are missed, it would be a probation violation.  The person could still wind up in jail, but there would be a hearing before the sentence.

Do you or someone you know have questions or concerns about a child support order?  At LaMonaca, our team of attorneys pride ourselves on exceeding client expectations. If you have a family law issue, call us today at (610) 892-3877 to schedule a consultation!

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About the author

About Gerry Gebhart

Gerry graduated from Drexel University magna cum laude with a degree in Information Systems and a minor in Business Administration. After working as a consultant in the intermodal transportation industry, Gerry enrolled in and graduated from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where he specialized in trial advocacy. Prior to joining LaMonaca Law, Gerry practiced Family Law privately while working at the Public Defender’s office. Gerry quickly gained a reputation as a savvy trial attorney, securing numerous successful trial verdicts, eventually resulting in his being elected as president of the Delaware County Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association. Gerry lives in Middletown Township where he is active in his local firehouse as both a firefighter and member of the board of directors.