Nevada Laws for "Nonsupport of a spouse,
former spouse or child" (NRS 201.020)
Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys

Failure to pay court ordered spousal support (alimony) in Nevada or child support in Nevada is a crime. Owing less than $10,000 in support carries up to six months in custody, while  owing $10,000 or more carries up to 5 years. And family court judges may take a conviction into account when determining child custody. However, criminal charges should not stand if the defendant was not able to work or could not find work.

In this article our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys summarize the Nevada offense of nonpayment of court-ordered spousal or child support.  Keep reading to learn about the law, potential punishments, and common defenses.

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The legal definition of "nonsupport of a spouse, former spouse or child" in Las Vegas, Nevada, makes it a crime to knowingly fail to follow a court order to provide for the support of his/her:

  • spouse or former spouse
  • minor child
  • adult child who is too sick, incompetent or disabled to support him/herself

In prosecuting a charge for nonpayment of spousal or child support in Las Vegas, the D.A. will try to prove the defendant guilty by showing either of the following:

  • the defendant is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed without good cause, with the intention of avoiding paying, or without using reasonable diligence to secure sufficient employment
  • the defendant is unable to pay because of excessive spending, indebtedness, or another legal obligation

Note that a D.A. may press charges for this crime in whatever county the defendant resides or wherever the spouse, ex-spouse or child owed the money resides.  Also note that spouses and ex-spouses may testify against each other in court-no "marital privilege" applies in cases for nonpayment of support.

Nevada has various organizations devoted to ensuring children receive enough financial support such as the Nevada Department of Health and Human Service's Child Support Enforcement Program.  For families living in and around Las Vegas, the Clark County, Nevada Family Court offers various self-help services.

Federal Crime of Nonsupport of a Child

Not paying child support can also be a federal crime under certain conditions.  These include the parent and child residing in different states, and the nonsupport lasting for over a year or amounting to over $5,000.  Read more about the federal crime of nonsupport of a child.


The most common defense to a charge of failing to pay spousal or child support in Nevada is that the defendant was unable to make the payments at no fault of his/her own.  Charges may be dropped if the defense attorney can demonstrate either of the following:

  • the defendant diligently searched for a job but with no luck
  • the defendant was too ill or incapacitated to work
  • the defendant was incarcerated and with insufficient funds in the bank

Note that it is not a defense to NRS 201.020 to show that the defendant did not know he/she was not making the payments.  Merely the fact that the money was not paid is enough for the court to presume that the conduct was "knowing."

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The punishment for knowing failure to pay child or spousal support in Nevada depends on the amount of child support owed and the defendant's criminal history:

Penalties for a first violation:

If the defendant owes less than $10,000 in support, nonpayment is prosecuted as only a misdemeanor in Las Vegas.  The sentence includes:

  • up to six months in jail, and/or
  • up to $1,000 in fines

But if the defendant owes $10,000 or more in support, nonpayment is prosecuted as a category C felony in Las Vegas.  The sentence includes:

Penalties for a second or subsequent violation:

The punishment for a second or subsequent conviction of nonsupport of a spouse, ex-spouse or child turns on the amount of money owed.  If it is less than $5,000, then it is a misdemeanor in Las Vegas carrying:

  • up to six months in jail, and/or
  • up to $1,000 in fines

But if the money owed is $5,000 or more, then it is punished as a category C felony in Las Vegas carrying:

  • 1 - 5 years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • maybe up to $10,000 in fines

Child custody consequences

Child custody matters are decided in family court, not criminal court.  However a family court judge may take into consideration a parent's conviction for nonsupport under NRS 201.020 when determining the child's physical and legal custody.

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Accused?  There is help . . . .

If you have been arrested for failure to pay child or spousal support under NRS 201.020, contact Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation.  Their goal is to keep you out of custody while safeguarding your parental rights.  Often they reach a favorable resolution through negotiation, but if necessary they are ready to take your matter to trial.


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