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General Laws

Section 34. Probate courts shall have like power and authority for enforcing orders, sentences, judgments and decrees made or pronounced in the exercise of any jurisdiction vested in them, and for punishing contempts of such orders, sentences, judgments and decrees and other contempts of their authority, as are vested for such or similar purposes in the supreme judicial or superior court in relation to an action in which equitable relief is sought pending therein. A judge of the probate court sentencing a person to jail or ordering a person to participate in a program of community service for failure to obey an order or judgment of the court relative to the support of his wife or minor children may order that the sentence be served or that the community service be performed during such hours as will permit such person to continue his employment. The failure of a defendant to comply with an order of the court for the support of spouse or minor children at a time when the defendant possessed the ability to make the support payment as ordered by the court may be punished as a criminal contempt. At the hearing of a complaint for civil contempt, the defendant shall have the burden of proving his or her inability to comply with the pre-existing order or judgment of which the complaint alleges violation.

When a judge of the probate court finds that a defendant is in civil contempt for failure to obey any order or judgment of the court relative to support of a spouse or child, the judge shall issue an order for the defendant to do one or more of the following:

(1) serve a sentence in jail; provided, however, that such sentence shall be stayed if the defendant purges himself of the contempt by taking such action as may be specified in the order, including one or more of the actions specified in clauses (2) to (6), inclusive;

(2) pay the full amount due under the order or judgment for support;

(3) make regular payments of current support and an additional specified amount towards arrears, pursuant to a payment schedule ordered by the court that requires payment of not less than the amount required under section 12 of chapter 119A and that meets all other requirements of said section 12 of said chapter 119A;

(4) actively seek paid employment and report at regular intervals, as specified in the order, to a probation officer on actions taken to seek employment;

(5) participate in a program of community service, as specified in the order, for up to 40 hours per week and report at regular intervals to a probation officer to present proof of participation in such program; or

(6) participate in an appropriate job readiness or job training program, as specified in the order, and report at regular intervals to a probation officer to present proof of participation in such program.

An order or judgment in a contempt proceeding for payment of an arrearage shall not be contingent on a reduction in the amount of current support payable under an existing order or judgment for support of a spouse, former spouse or child absent a finding that a substantial change of circumstances has occurred. Neither the existence of an arrearage nor the amount of any arrearage shall constitute a substantial change of circumstances or grounds for modification of an outstanding order or judgment for support.

In addition to any other remedy available pursuant to this section or chapter 119A to enforce an order or judgment for support, if the defendant is unable to comply with an order to make current payments of support, is unemployed and is not disabled, a judge of the probate court shall order such defendant to; (i) actively seek paid employment and report at regular intervals, as specified in the order, to a probation officer on actions taken to seek employment; (ii) to participate in a program of community service for up to 40 hours per week and to report at regular intervals, as specified in the order, to a probation officer to present proof of participation in such program; or (iii) to participate in an appropriate job readiness or job training program and to report at regular intervals, as specified in the order, to a probation officer to present proof of participation in such program.

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