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Can I go to jail if I'm financially unable to pay the court ordered fines in a civil contempt matter due to being unemployed?

Abington, PA |

I reside in the state of PA and have been unemployed for over a year and was ordered to pay court ordered fines after being found in contempt but I can't pay them. Is there a law that can help me get special relief in this matter? I will pay as soon as I find employment but can't right now but fear that the judge will throw me in jail.

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Attorney answers 3


The court, after holding you in contempt can put you in jail for failure to comply. Under the circumstances you describe, it may not be likely though as incarceration would only compound the problem.

You should however try to make some sort of payment, even if it's only $5 and explain to the court that you are unemployed.

Every legal matter is fact specific, and there are often nuances in every case. This is intended for comment only, and does not create an attorney client relationship.


In Montgomery County, my experience is that f the judge sees that you had money for other things, such as a cell phone, cable television, or cigarettes, but still made no payments on your case, the judge may still send you to county prison but give you work release so you could find/maintain a job. It will also depend on why you are found in contempt and the judge, but yes - you could be found in contempt and jailed.


The short answer is that yes, there is a possibility of incarceration for contempt of a court order. The Court, however, given the circumstances does not always utilize this option. The Court will hear your reasons for non-payment and assess whether or not you have the ability to pay anything. It is always better to make some payment, however little that may be to assure the Court that you are making a valiant effort to comply. You might also want to consider filing a petition to modify your current order if you have not already done so. You should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area for further assistance in this matter.