The only sure-fire way to defend against a Rule to Show Cause for failure to pay child support is to bring receipts showing that all of the child support payments were actually paid on time. If you are in full compliance with the order, and always were, then there is really nothing left to do but dismiss the Rule.
Failing that, options for defense are extremely limited. Actual, literal, inability to pay support is technically a valid defense to a Rule but it almost never works. I have heard many judges say something to the effect of “if you don’t pay your rent, they just kick you out. If you don’t pay your support, I’ll put you in jail.” The one major exception to this is that if you are already incarcerated, and not earning any money through a work-release program, then enforcement will typically be stopped until your release. Support continues to come due and arrears continue to pile up, but no enforcement actions will be taken.
Again, if you are literally unable to pay support then no amount of coercion can make you come into compliance with the order. If you have money but spend it on other things—indeed, even important things like food, clothing, and shelter—then you are not literally incapable of paying support and coercion is a valid result from the judge’s perspective.
By far, defense in a Rule to Show Cause case is usually about minimizing consequences. It is about making sure the judge knows your particular situation and takes it into account when making a decision. It is about getting an extra chance or two to make things right before the judge loses patience. That is what an attorney brings to a defense because we know the judges and we can put things in a light more favorable to the defendant. Ultimately the defendant has to either start making payments or has to start preparing for jail time, though. If support is not being paid then eventually the consequences will start piling up. An attorney can definitely improve the chances of having more time to get things moving, though, or getting a lower than normal purge bond set and sometimes that is all you need.
This series has so far covered most of the basic ideas involved in the enforcement of a child support order. As always, I highly recommend discussing any issues covered by these blog posts with a licensed attorney and that is especially true in the case of defending against a Rule to Show Cause.
And now, please enjoy this disclaimer: The content of this post, indeed of all of my posts, is intended to reference only Virginia law. I am writing this blog to give some idea of the complexities that can underlie family law issues in Virginia and in no way am I giving anyone legal advice here. While I hope these posts will be informative, no one should feel entitled to rely on the information presented here as an authoritative source. Anyone facing a legal issue is well advised to speak to a lawyer face to face to discuss the specifics of that case, rather than relying on general information found on the internet.