Terrell Owens Faces Incarceration for Failure to Pay Child Support

September 29, 2011
Louis Sternberg

Terrell Owens faces Incarceration

Earlier in September, Melanie Paige Smith sued former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens for $10,000 in child support payments.  According to Ms. Smith’s lawyer, Randall Kessler, Mr. Owens unilaterally decided to stop paying his support obligation this summer because he is no longer playing professional football.  Ms. Smith’s petition, filed in Atlanta’s Fulton County Superior Court, sought $10,000 (representing two months of missed payments at $5,000 per month) or a finding of contempt and incarceration of Mr. Owens if he failed to make payment.

New York law has similar provisions and would also permit a court to incarcerate a support obligor for willful failure to pay support.  Family Court Act § 454 gives the Family Court a number of remedies against a support obligor who fails to make payment.  Even if the failure to pay is non-willful, the court has the authority to:

  • Enter a money judgment
  • Enter an income deduction order
  • Order an undertaking or sequestration
  • Suspend of a driver’s, professional or business license


In situations where the failure to make payment is found to be willful, the court has the authority to:

  • Incarcerate the obligor for up to 6 months
  • Require the obligor to participate in a rehabilitative program
  • Place the support obligor on probation


New York’s Domestic Relations Law and Judiciary Act both have similar provisions that give New York Supreme Court the same authority as the Family Court in punishing failure to meet one’s support obligation.

These remedies can be very burdensome on an obligor so, when facing a violation or contempt proceeding, it is always advisable to contact an attorney.