Not paying child or spousal support in Costa Rica can land you in jail. The Ley de Pensiones Alimentarias (Child and Spousal Support law) provides support for the child of a marriage and in certain circumstances for the spouse in the relationship.

Four of the women in the ‘pensiones’ module of the women’s prison. The module can hold up to 12 women at any one time, but on average houses 8 women daily, continually changing faces as women come and go. Photo Jorge Castillo / La Teja

Not paying or being in arrears means a warrant for arrest can be issued and if the person ends up in the grasp of the police, he or she, the law does not discriminate, will be in jail until payment in full is made.

In February 2014, was the case of a 70-year-old American resident in Costa Rica that was thrown in jail for missing a child support payment. He had been ordered to pay US$7,500 dollars monthly month for the support of his minor daughter. When he couldn’t pay, he wound up in jail. (Here is an update to his story Father Goes To Jail For Third Time For Child Support Debt)

That case is an extreme, typical monthly child support payments range from ¢50,000 to ¢100,000 colones, per child. In addition, support payment is for 13 months a year – as the law requires the payment of the Aguinaldo, the so-called ‘Christmas Bonus’.

Women not paying support end up in the special unit of the Centro de Atención Institucional Vilma Curling Rivera, also known as the Buen Pastor prison for women, in San Rafael Arriba, Desamparados. Men, go to the La Reforma prison in San Rafael de Alajuela.

The debtor can be imprisoned for any outstanding amount, it could be as little as ¢10,000 colones (like US$20), but typically police will hold the debtor in the local jail and given a chance to pay up (or someone else come pay) before being transferred to the prison system.

Once in the prison, the cost to the state is ¢24,194 colones a day (¢725,000 colones a month), according to data from Adaptación Social, the prisons division of the Ministerio de Justicia.

This is an expense that the state must bear because the law is the law.

Click here for the law on support (in Spanish).