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This week, rapper DMX was jailed for breaching a family court ruling in New York State. TMZ reports that he has a history of issues with child support and other violations. DMX, real name Earl Simmons, was sentenced to six months in Erie County Holding Centre. According to a spokesman for the New York City Sherriff's Department, the rapper has $400,000 worth of unpaid child support.

In Ontario, support payers who do not comply with acourt order also face the possibility of jail time. It is the most extreme method for enforcing child support arrears permitted under the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act. The payer may be imprisoned for up to 180 days or until the arrears are paid, whichever is sooner. Note that completing a prison sentence does not discharge the payer's obligation to pay the outstanding support.

Before a family court judge orders a payer to be imprisoned, the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) will attempt to negotiate an arrangement with the payer to pay the outstanding support. FRO is Ontario's child and spousal support enforcement program. Unless both a support payer and payee agree to withdraw from FRO's services, all court orders relating to support are automatically filed with the FRO office. FRO may take any of the following enforcement actions in regards to late support payments:

  • Garnish (deduct) the payer's employment wages;
  • Seize bank accounts;
  • Suspend the payer's driver's license;
  • Suspend the payer's passports;
  • Seize income tax Refunds and GST rebates;
  • Garnish up to 50% of Employment Insurance, income from the payer's Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security

Only a court can order jail time for failing to pay child support. It is a last resort used only when the payer has the ability to pay support but has willfully not complied with the order. A support payer who has valid reasons for not being able to pay support (i.e. loss of employment) should file a motion to change his or her support order. If the support payer's motion is successful, the court may modify the support order, order the payer to pay the arrears in accordance with his or her ability to pay, or discharge the support arrears.