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Imprisoned for missing child support? Georgia parents file suit

Marietta parents want to provide for their children and often spend more than they should to ensure their children are well-cared for. When parents divorce, however, one parent is forced to pay child support. While most parents don't object to paying child support, it is sometimes difficult to afford the court-ordered payment and many parents need to reduce their child support payments. If the court refuses to modify the support order or the parent hasn't filed a request to modify, a Georgia court could find the parent in civil contempt and jail him or her.

Georgia is one of many states that imprisons parents who are unable to pay their child support obligations and many parents are sent to jail without being able to consult a lawyer. There have been more than 3,500 parents jailed in the past two years and October 2011 saw 845 people sent to jail.

Because many parents were unable to afford or didn't have the opportunity to consult an attorney prior to being jailed, five fathers in Georgia filed a lawsuit to force the state to provide attorneys for parents that are unable to pay for legal assistance. Although the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that a parent doesn't have a right to an attorney in a child support hearing, the opinion only focused on hearings in which the state wasn't involved. Since many of the civil contempt hearings pit the state against the indigent parent, the fathers' lawsuit can continue.

A judge in the Fulton County Superior Court granted the fathers a class-action status this past December, meaning that many other parents sitting in prison will be included in the lawsuit. The judge defined the class as those who have been imprisoned and are unable to afford counsel.

Putting parents who are unable to modify their child support payments makes it more difficult to actually provide for children, as jailed parents are not earning any money. This lawsuit could, however, push the state to use other methods of gathering child support before resorting to locking a parent up.

For more information about the lawsuit, please read this previous post on jailed indigent parents in Georgia.

Source: The Marietta Daily Journal, "Fathers challenging jail sentences in child support cases," Greg Bluestein, Jan. 30, 2012

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