Georgia Man Challenges Jail for Child Support Debt

On any given day, 500 Georgia parents face incarceration for failing to pay child support. They are usually jailed on civil contempt charges and are not given an attorney to represent them. One such Georgia father is challenging the legal basis for incarcerating people who are too poor to pay child support.

The 39-year-old father was in the military from 1991 to 2005, and for most of the past 15 years, he consistently made his child support payments on time. After he left the service, the veteran worked for AT&T as a service technician. While working there, his $452 per month child support payment was deducted from his paychecks.

Like many people suffering in our bad economy, he lost his job in July 2009. Since that time, he took odd jobs, used his tax refunds to make his child support payments, and made $2,600 in child support payments. However, being unemployed and underemployed, his money eventually ran out.

He recently found a job, but four days later and with only 39 cents left in the bank, the Georgia veteran was summoned to court on contempt charges for not paying child support. After a hearing, he was given the choice of paying $3,000 he did not have, serving time in jail, or spending time at a work release center.

He chose to go to the work-release center, and he is now serving up to 120 days at a diversion center. As a part of his confinement, he must use his wages to pay $140 weekly for room and board and $135 weekly in child support.

He is now challenging his confinement on the basis that the U.S. Supreme Court and the Georgia Supreme court have ruled that judges cannot send someone to jail if they are too poor to pay their court ordered child support obligations.

A preventive option available to parents in a similar position is filing for a modification of child support payments. If a person suffers an involuntary loss of income, like losing a job, family law judges will often lower the amount of monthly payments. If you are falling behind in child support and have questions about child support modification, an experienced family law attorney can inform you of your options.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Jail for child support debt questioned,” Bill Rankin, 12/15/2010

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