Georgia parents who are behind on their child support payments better watch
out. Many parents who have fallen on tough financial times are not being
met with compassion in the court room and instead are being sent to jail
for non-payment. Georgia is one of five states that do not provide public
paid legal counsel for those facing incarceration because of back due
child support. The reason given is that child support proceedings are
civil (as opposed to criminal), and the issue of possible jail time arises
when a court finds debtor in contempt of court. That is generally a civil
penalty, and for that, Georgia does not provide free legal services to
those unable to pay for their own lawyer.
Some say the procedure is unfair, and a class action lawsuit has been filed
challenging the problem. The gist of the lawsuit is that individuals facing
prison should have a right to an appointed attorney when they cannot afford
to pay for one. One attorney described current child support contempt
proceedings as almost shameful. Each "hearing" generally takes
no more than a half minute. The judge asks if the individual has any money
to pay, and when the individual says no, they are sent to jail.
Proponents of the system say it works, arguing that once someone loses
their freedom, money miraculously appears. While statistics indicate it
is sometimes true, just as often it is not true. The result is a person,
who had no money to pay child support in the first place, ends up spending
3 months or more in jail. Children lose out on child support money as
well as visitation. While children can visit their parents in prison,
there are not many parents that want to see their kids under those circumstances.
It remains to be seen what result the class action lawsuit will bring,
but it underscores the importance of child support matters. Whether someone
is hoping to collect needed payments, or someone is financially strapped
due to loss of a job or other financial calamity, the matters require
Regardless, no one should face jail without the benefit of counsel, and
it is preferable to consult a Georgia attorney experienced in family law.
The attorney may help pursue a financially responsible individual for
payment, or argue for a reduction in required payments by a person obligated
to pay, due to financial circumstances beyond their control.