CAN YOU GO TO JAIL FOR OWING MONEY? 
Sunday, May 17, 2009, 06:55 PM
Posted by Administrator
Let me get the easy part out of the way first: YOU CAN'T GO TO JAIL JUST FOR NOT PAYING A CREDIT CARD OR YOUR MORTGAGE OR A HOSPITAL BILL OR YOUR ELECTRIC BILL. You can't even go to jail for not paying your lawyer (but, I believe we are working on this).

Still, if you try hard enough, you can go to jail as a result of owing money. There are several ways to do this:
1) Not paying alimony or child support is contempt of court. The Judgment says you "shall" pay it and, if you don't do what the court says you shall do, it is possible to get taken off to jail for contempt. The courts here in Palm Beach County try hard to just accept non-payment and not send anyone to jail. I understand in Broward they are less sympathetic.

Once you get arrested, you will be brought to court the next morning and the judge will (re-) set your "purge amount"...pay the purge amount and you are out. The purge amount should be set at no more than you can afford and does not usually bear much relation to what you owe. So, if you convince the judge you can only come up with $50.00, for $50.00 you're out even though you owe $10,000.

The federal government/FBI/justice department will send you to jail for not paying your child support if you owe staggering amount, grab their attention and still don't pay. For big money, not paying child support is a federal crime. I have not heard any local stories but, sometimes, there is something about this in the newspaper, and...

2) If you don't pay fines in criminal cases, you can land up in jail.

3) HERE IS THE BIG ONE FOR PEOPLE IN DEBT: A creditor gets a judgment against you and then wants to take your deposition or have you answer questions "in aid of execution". "Execution" is when the Sheriff is sent off to take your property ("execution" ijn this context has nothing to do with executing people) and "in aid of" means the creditor (now judgment holder) wants you to tell them what you've got.

A subpoena, properly served, is a court order for you to come to a deposition or a hearing. If you don't show up----that's contempt. If you don't answer interrogatories (written questions) or if you don't show up in response to a subpoena (or you don't answer questions after showing up), the judgment holder will file a motion (request) for the court to make you show why you should not be held in contempt and the court will have a hearing on the motion. You will get notice (notice and the right to be heard are part of the right to "due process" that is in the Constitution).

If you come for the motion hearing, the judge will tell you to sit for the deposition and give the answers to the interrogatories and all will be forgotten and that you will go to jail if you don't. But, if you don't show for the hearing, the judge will likely find you in contempt of court and issue an order for you to be held in jail until your purge yourself of the contempt. The purge is usually set in the alternative: a) pay the amount you owe the judgment holder, or, b) sit for the deposition. If you don't pay, you will be brought to court the next day and, hopefully, the judge will make the judgment holder take your depostion right then. Otherwise, you'll sit in jail until..............

I have run into only a couple of people in my 25 years who have managed to be ordered off to jail for not sitting for depostions or answering interrogatories as a result of a lawsuit by a creditor. The low number demonstrates that while it is tough to get sent to jail as a result of owing money...........if you try hard enough, it can be done.

THE ABOVE RELATES ONLY TO FLORIDA. WHO KNOWS WHAT GOES ON IN MISSISSIPPI, TENNESSEE, ALASKA, OR HAWAII?
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