A child support case involving an unemployed father from Rome, Georgia, is putting a spotlight on a very important question: What is the most effective way for our society to ensure that child support gets paid in a timely fashion to the children who need it?
Currently, Georgia and many states provide a number of penalties for parents who consistently fail to pay their child support, including jail time. These enforcement mechanisms rely in part on the assumption that people who don't pay child support are "deadbeats."
In today's economy, however, there appear to be a growing number of people who can't pay child support simply because they're poor. The father from Rome had consistently made his child support payments before he lost his job. Now, more than $3,000 behind, he is in jail for contempt. A hearing in Floyd County Superior Court to determine whether he should be released is scheduled for January 10.
In the first part of this series, we discussed how the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) in Atlanta has decided to take on the case of the unemployed dad from Rome who is currently in jail for unpaid child support. The SCHR says jailing poor people for unpaid child support is essentially a form of debtor's prison.
In this second part of the series, we will show how the child support enforcement system can actually make it harder for unemployed parents to pay child support. We will also discuss what you can do if you lose your job and can't afford your child support payments.
Being Held in Contempt for Child Support Adds Fees and Costs to Your Debt
The father from Rome fell more than $3,000 behind on his child support payments after he lost his job in July 2009. Up until then, he had consistently paid it.
He was held in contempt in June of last year, and his monthly payments were increased to pay off the back-child support. In October, he lost his home to foreclosure.
In November, he found a part-time job, but was jailed that same month for non-payment. Luckily, he was allowed to keep his part-time job through a work-release program, that added $185 a week to his debt to the court -- more than his increased child support.
"Before he was incarcerated, he had the ability to pay a greater portion of his earnings to child support," said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the SCHR. "Now he has to pay fees that are all deducted first."
What Should You Do If You Lose Your Job and Can't Pay Your Child Support?
If you lose your job, you should immediately file a request for a modification of your child support. A substantial change in circumstances generally allows the amount of child support you owe to be recalculated. You need to do this right away, because until your order is changed by the court, the amount of child support you owe under your existing order will continue to accrue.
You should not rely on an agreement with your child's other parent. Even if he or she doesn't complain, the State of Georgia can still hold you in contempt for nonpayment if you aren't making your payments.
Source: Rome News-Tribune, "Law Center questions 'debtors' prison,'" Diane Wagner, December 24, 2010