Nonsupport is a legal concept that pertains to the failure or neglect of an individual to provide financial assistance or care to another person, typically a family member or dependent. Understanding the legal definition, consequences, and relevant considerations of nonsupport is essential in family law and criminal law contexts. This comprehensive legal explanation explores the definition, legal requirements, consequences, defenses, and potential remedies associated with nonsupport.

Definition of Nonsupport:

Nonsupport refers to the failure or neglect of a person to provide financial or material support to another person for whom they have a legal or moral obligation to support. It typically arises in the context of familial or spousal support obligations.

Types of Nonsupport:

Nonsupport can take various forms, including:

Child Support Nonsupport: This occurs when a non-custodial parent fails to provide court-ordered child support payments to the custodial parent for the financial care of their child.

Spousal Support Nonsupport: In cases of divorce or legal separation, a spouse may be required to provide financial support to the other spouse as part of a court-ordered alimony or spousal support arrangement. Nonsupport in this context refers to the failure to make these court-ordered payments.

Elderly Parent Nonsupport: Some jurisdictions impose legal obligations on adult children to provide financial support to their elderly parents when the parents are unable to support themselves adequately.

Legal Requirements for Nonsupport:

The legal requirements for establishing nonsupport may vary based on the jurisdiction and the specific type of support obligation. However, several common elements typically apply:

Existence of Support Obligation: There must be a pre-existing legal or moral obligation to provide support. This obligation can arise from court orders, legal agreements, familial relationships, or statutes.

Failure to Provide Support: Nonsupport requires a demonstrated failure or neglect to fulfill the support obligation. This failure can manifest as the refusal to make court-ordered payments, the abandonment of dependents, or the neglect of essential care.

Knowledge of Obligation: In many cases, the person accused of nonsupport must have knowledge of their support obligation. Ignorance of the obligation may be a valid defense.

Consequences of Nonsupport:

Nonsupport can lead to various legal consequences:

Civil Remedies: In family law cases, the custodial parent or the party owed support can seek civil remedies, such as enforcement of court-ordered payments, wage garnishment, property liens, or the initiation of contempt of court proceedings against the non-compliant party.

Criminal Charges: In some jurisdictions, nonsupport may be a criminal offense, subjecting the non-supporting party to criminal charges, fines, probation, or even imprisonment.

Loss of Rights: Nonsupport can lead to the loss of certain rights, such as visitation rights or the right to contest custody or visitation arrangements.

Credit Reporting: Delinquent child support payments can negatively impact the credit history of the non-paying party.

Liability for Arrears: Accumulated arrearages (unpaid support) may continue to accrue interest, increasing the overall financial burden on the non-paying party.

Defenses to Nonsupport Charges:

Certain defenses may be available to individuals accused of nonsupport:

Inability to Pay: If the non-supporting party can demonstrate a genuine inability to meet their support obligation due to financial hardship, disability, or other extenuating circumstances, this may be considered a valid defense.

Lack of Knowledge: If the accused party can prove that they were unaware of the support obligation, this may negate the willful neglect element of nonsupport.

Modification of Support Orders: If a change in circumstances warrants a modification of support orders, the non-paying party should seek a legal modification rather than simply discontinuing payments.

Remedies for Nonsupport:

Remedies for nonsupport aim to compel compliance with support obligations:

Civil Contempt: Courts can hold the non-compliant party in civil contempt, imposing fines or imprisonment until they comply with court orders.

Garnishment: Wage garnishment allows child support or spousal support payments to be automatically deducted from the non-paying party’s paycheck.

Property Liens: Liens may be placed on the property of the non-compliant party, which can be enforced if the property is sold or transferred.

Criminal Charges: In cases of criminal nonsupport, the non-supporting party may face criminal charges, fines, or imprisonment.


Nonsupport is a legal concept that encompasses the failure or neglect to provide financial or material support to another person for whom there is a legal or moral obligation to support. This obligation most commonly arises in the context of child support, spousal support, or support for elderly parents.

Legal consequences for nonsupport can be civil or criminal and may involve fines, imprisonment, wage garnishment, or property liens. Individuals facing nonsupport accusations should seek legal counsel to understand their rights, obligations, and potential defenses. Additionally, they should consider pursuing legal remedies or support modification requests through the appropriate legal channels to address changing circumstances.

If you are in need of a family law attorney contact us today.
For more family law terms visit our glossary page.

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