There are possibly millions of children and custodial parents in Georgia who rely on child support payments to cover things like food, insurance or school costs. What happens, however, when a non-custodial parent can’t afford his or her child support payments? The first thing a parent should do is to contact an attorney and seek a modification of child support. Modifications allow for changes in circumstances that affect your ability to pay, such as the loss of a job.

In some cases, however, a parent won’t be able to get a modification. In Marietta and across Georgia, some parents are finding themselves imprisoned after they were no longer able to afford their child support payments. For many of those locked up, they went through a hearing without a lawyer because the state of Georgia does not provide legal representation for those who can’t afford it.

What about the Bill of Rights?

While many people may remember that anyone accused of a crime can have a lawyer appointed, the state does not consider these hearings to be criminal. Rather, they are hearings to determine whether a non-custodial parent has violated an order for child support and is in contempt of court. Even though the judge can sentence the parent to jail time, the parent is not entitled to legal support, at least not in Georgia.

Georgia is one of five states that do not guarantee impoverished parents the right to an attorney in a child support hearing. After six men and women went through these hearings without the help of a lawyer and were sent to jail, they banded together to file a class-action lawsuit against the state. They are trying to force Georgia to appoint a lawyer when a parent faces jail time for an inability to pay child support.

Source: MSNBC, “Unable to pay child support, poor parents land behind bars,” Mike Brunker, Sept. 12, 2011