June 16, 2019

Should Unemployed Dads be Thrown in Jail for Past Due Child Support?

deadbeat dads in jailThis past Monday, I ran across an interesting article on msnbc.com entitled “Unable to Pay Child Support, Poor Parents Land Behind Bars.”   The gist of this article is that non-custodial parents (usually fathers) who have been out of work are brought before judges on contempt charges without any right to court appointed lawyers, and are ending up in jail for non-payment.

In one case, a 39 year Iraqi war vet living in Georgia, with a 10+ year history of regular payments fell behind when he lost his job 2 years ago.  Although now working, the judge would not agree to any payment arrangement and put the delinquent father in jail for 3 months.

Several of these recently incarcerated fathers have filed a class action lawsuit demanding that the state of Georgia provide legal counsel in cases where jail is a possible outcome.

Recently the United States Supreme Court ruled that poor parents are not entitled to court appointed lawyers when facing jail for non-payment of child support so long as state law contains “substantial procedural safeguards” to ensure that those without means to pay are not locked up.

The plaintiffs in the Georgia class action suit are contending that Georgia law does not provide those procedural safeguards.

What do you think?   I regularly hear from custodial parents who write to say that the non-custodial parent refuses to work or works for cash.  At the same time, it seems counterproductive to put a parent like the Iraqi war vet in jail, thereby causing him to lose his new job, putting him even further behind.

Georgia and other states, of course, have no money, and they will no doubt argue to the courts that they should not be burdened with the cost of court appointed lawyers for child support defendants.

What is a good solution to this type of situation?