SCOA: Imprisonment for Failure to Pay Requires Finding Ability to Pay

Stehle v. Zimmerebner, 2016 Ark. 290, 497 S.W.3d 188 (2016).

Appellant appealed circuit court order holding her in contempt for making insufficient efforts to comply with order to pay child support arrearage.

The circuit court ordered appellant held in detention every weekend until she made “proper effort” to pay off the sums previously ordered. Its order said it would take into account substantial payment, additional employment, and other actions showing that she was taking the obligation seriously.

The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed and remanded holding that it is in violation of the Arkansas Constitution to imprison a debtor for failing to pay money without finding that she has an ability to pay. Ark. Const. art. 2, § 16. 

Further, the supreme court held that the circuit court’s order did not provide enough specificity as to the efforts that the debtor was required to make in order to end the contempt.