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Dangers of Incarceration for Missed Child Support Payments

In child support cases the court’s primary objective is to ensure that each parent is paying an equitable amount for the care of the child. In the state of Georgia, the amount of child support payments a noncustodial parent is obligated to pay for the care of a child is determined by the Georgia child support worksheet. Each parent’s income is used in the calculation of this amount. The Superior Court rules give the court a considerable amount of power to enforce these support obligations. If there is a scenario where the noncustodial parent does not make their court ordered child support payments serious consequences could be in store.

The biggest fear for noncustodial parents behind on child support is an angry judge sentencing them to a period of jail time for the infraction. Typically, the court has the power to encourage compliance with it’s orders and decrees by issuing fines and in some cases, jail time, if conditions are not followed. Specifically, O.C.G.A §15-1-4(c) states that: “When a person who is gainfully employed violates an order of the court granting temporary or permanent alimony or child support and the judge finds the person in contempt of court, the sentencing judge may sentence the respondent to a term of confinement. O.C.G.A §15-6-8 grants the superior court the power to punish contempt by fines of up to $1,000, by imprisonment of up to 20 days, or both.

A New York Times article by Francis Roubles and Shaila Dewan discussed some of the never-ending cycles some parents find themselves in when child support is ordered that exceeds the parent’s ability to pay. Some jurisdictions throughout the country attempt to enforce compliance by withholding up to 65 percent of the parent’s paycheck, seizing bank deposits, tax returns, suspending driver’s licenses and imposing jail time. The trend noted in the article is the ever-increasing amount of parents being jailed for failure to pay. Unfortunately, the threat of jailtime is meant to punish parents who willfully neglect their financial obligation and/or those parents who hide their assets. It is not meant to incarcerate parents who didn’t have the ability to pay in the first place. To this end, in 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that courts must make a specific finding that a parent has the ability to pay prior to imposing jail time.

The difficult decision that some courts are faced with is the balance between imposing jailtime time to enforce compliance and the need for the noncustodial parent to maintain employment to support the child. In any event, an important note to mention from the New York Times article is the benefit of having legal representation to assist with the child support determination and in the event of nonpayment, defending a contempt action. The Faucette Law Firm, LLC specializes handling all family law and divorce-related matters including: contested and uncontested divorce, child support, child custody, spousal support, legitimation, modifications and adoptions. We serve Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb, Douglas, Carroll, Coweta, Clayton, Henry, Gwinnett, Fayette, Paulding and Cobb. Contact our office today for a consultation.