In Georgia, non-custodial parents who do not meet their child support obligations can face serious consequences. They can even be thrown in jail.
Now, a group of five fathers have gone to court to challenge this Georgia child support law. They say the rule is both unfair and counterproductive.
One of their principal complaints is the fact that parents are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney at the hearing that decides whether they will be jailed. Since January 2010, at least 3,500 Georgia parents have been put in jail without the assistance of an attorney. The state says that providing court-appointed attorneys would cost millions of dollars.
Only three other states refuse to provide court-appointed attorneys in cases where indigent parents are facing jail time.
The litigants also claim that jailing non-custodial parents makes it harder for them to meet their child support obligations. Most lose their job when they are put in jail, and they say it is nearly impossible to get hired while incarcerated.
The Southern Center for Human Rights is representing the fathers. It calls Georgia's practice of jailing non-paying parents a "modern day debtor's prison." Some parents end up spending more than a year in jail.
No one is arguing that child support debts shouldn't be collected. However, they say that there are more effective means available - for example, the state could garnish a non-paying parent's wages or put liens on their property.
Parents who cannot afford to pay their child support obligations may also be able to seek child support modifications if they have experienced a significant change in income. Often, the safest bet can be to confront child support obligations head-on.
Source: The Washington Examiner, "Fathers Challenge Jail Sentences for Child Support," Greg Bluestein, Jan. 29, 2012.