We have related for readers in prior blog posts the status of Georgia as being within a distinct minority of states to not provide legal counsel to indigent parents involved in child support matters. Several thousand parents facing civil contempt charges were incarcerated in state jails last year after state attorneys commenced litigation against them for failure to pay their support obligations.
There has been strong reaction to that, with, first, a Fulton County Superior Court judge granting class-action status to all parents involved in civil contempt actions brought by state attorneys who are without funds and facing jail time. Recently, the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a brief in a Fulton County lawsuit arguing for the right to counsel where a "debtor's prison" is a potential outcome for a non-paying parent.
That group has also mentioned alternatives to jail, most prominently a court program that is gaining traction and increasing in popularity in many counties throughout Georgia.
The program is called Parental Accountability Court (PAC). Its main purpose is to provide support to indigent parents to identify the major hurdles that are preventing them from performing their duties and then assist those parents in overcoming those obstacles.
A major challenge for many indigent parents is, of course, finding a job, and PAC supports them in their efforts to find work.
"Too often the response to nonpayment is jail," says a representative for the Southern Center, who adds that, "Jail doesn't really solve the problem."
One mother who has been divorced for 10 years says that her former husband had little contact with the couple's children for most of that time. She states that things have changed greatly recently owing to his involvement with a PAC in Hall County,
"Not only is he making child support payments, he's seeing the children regularly," she says.
Source: ABA Journal, "New Parental Accountability Court helps increase child support payments while cutting jail costs," Martha Neil, April 13, 2012