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Fulton County Suit Alleges Counsel Right for Indigent Parents

A lawsuit filed earlier this week in Fulton County Superior Court spotlights indigent parents in Georgia who have been jailed or imprisoned for their inability to pay child support. The case challenges the state's assumption that "deadbeat parents" who are locked up because of failure to pay should not be accorded the same right to legal counsel that indigents charged with other crimes have.

Six men are being represented by the Southern Center of Human Rights "SCHR"), which is seeking to have the suit reclassified as a class action filing that would allow many more persons in similar circumstances to join in as plaintiffs. SCHR attorneys say that such persons are easy to find in Georgia, given what they call the state's system of "debtors' prisons." Georgia is among a small minority of states where persons without money who face contempt charges for failure to pay support do not qualify to receive a lawyer at state expense.

The plaintiffs are all unemployed and have been unable to meet recurring child support obligations. Three of them are veterans with established support payment histories that were unblemished until they lost their jobs.

One state official commiserates with the men, but says that providing lawyers for indigent parents "could devastate our system." Seth Harp, who is the chairman of the Georgia Child Support Guidelines Commission, acknowledges the adverse affect that a reeling economy has had on many parents, but states that the state simply cannot start appointing attorneys to represent those in need. And, he adds, "There are many people who deserve to go to jail."

The United States Supreme Court is currently hearing an appeal from a South Carolina father who was jailed for a year for failure to pay child support.

Related Resource: "Lawsuit: State should provide lawyers for delinquent child support payers" March 22, 2011

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