When parents are married and one becomes unemployed, the family scrimps and saves, cuts back on things and works through the tough economic period. When a divorced or unmarried parent loses a job, it can have serious legal repercussions. That's because unmarried parents are subject to child support orders.
As we reported on this blog in December, the case of an unemployed father from Rome has put a spotlight on the issue of whether parents who do their best to pay their child support but are simply too poor to do so should be held in contempt -- and put in jail.
Of course, timely and complete payment of child support is in the best interest of every child. We have all heard of parents out there who seem to be doing everything they can think of to avoid that responsibility -- "deadbeat" moms and dads. In today's economy, however, there appear to be a growing number of parents whose failure to pay child support is the result of genuine hardship.
In this two-part series, we will discuss how the current child support enforcement system works in Georgia and whether jail is the right solution when parents are trying their hardest to pay court-ordered child support but are simply too poor.
Southern Center for Human Rights Takes On Case for Free
The Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) in Atlanta is taking on the child support enforcement system on behalf of the father from Rome. By representing him for free, they hope to get the law changed so that well-meaning people who fall behind on their child support aren't put in jail and subjected to penalties that only make paying it back harder.
Attorneys from the Center say this is a form of debtors' prison, which is illegal in the United States. A hearing in the man's case is scheduled for January 10 in Floyd County Superior Court.
According to the SCHR, the father from Rome is one of hundreds of indigent people in Georgia who are currently being held in jail for contempt due to unpaid child support.
"He should never have been incarcerated," said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the SCHR. "In this country, we don't put people in jail just because they're poor."
In this economy, there are undoubtedly many parents who are failing to pay their child support because of unemployment. There are legal steps that you can take to avoid going to jail for unpaid child support, but since many of those involved have very little money, they often don't have lawyers. (The father from Rome did not have an attorney.)
In the second part of this series, we will show how being held in contempt actually made it harder for the Rome father's children to get their child support. We will also discuss what unemployed parents can do if they can't meet their child support obligations.
Source: Rome News-Tribune, "Law Center questions 'debtors' prison,'" Diane Wagner, December 24, 2010