In a January 2020 divorce case called IN RE DENSON, Tex: Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2020
The husband, by agreed decree of divorce, said he would pay the wife $257,220 as part of their division of assets.
He was supposed to pay this total amount by paying her in monthly installment payments of $4,287.00 per month, unless the balance was paid in full.
But, he failed to pay her.
So, she filed a petition to enforce the decree, which is a document and procedure that is used to request the court to punish a person for not following a court order.
She went to a hearing where the judge learned that he had not paid her as ordered.
The Judge agreed that husband had violated the court order.
The Judge ordered that husband be sent to jail.
The husband, from jail, hired a lawyer to petition for writ of habeas corpus.
This is essentially just how a person formally objects and appeals the wrongful imprisonment of a body.
The Court of appeals agreed with the husband, and had him released because the Texas Constitution prohibits the imprisonment of any person the Texas Constitution prohibits the imprisonment of any person for a debt. TEX. CONST. ART. I, § 18.
So, the rule is that a person cannot be put in jail for not paying a debt.
However, the Texas Family Code section 9.012 states that the court may enforce by contempt only debts for “a sum of money in existence at the time the decree was rendered; or a matured right to future payments. . . .” See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. §9.012.
Additionally, the failure to pay child support, spousal maintenance or contractual alimony may be punishable by a contempt finding that results in incarceration. See, e.g., In re Brown, No. 12-09-00154-CV, 2009 WL 1492836, at *1 (Tex. App.-Tyler May 29, 2009, orig. proceeding); In re C.F., 576 S.W.3d 761, 770 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2019, orig. proceeding.) (“A person may be held in contempt and imprisoned for failing to pay child support because the obligation to pay child support is a duty, not a debt.”) (citing TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. §§ 157.001, 157.166-.167; Henry, 154 S.W.3d at 596).