Should Men Go To Jail When They Fail To Pay Child Support?

April 20, 2015  |  

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Over the years there have been reports of celebrities and average citizens alike serving jail time for not paying child support. We might not have much sympathy for celebrities who fail to make payments. But what about men who are working poor? Should those people, mostly men, many Black men, be incarcerated for this infraction?

In their report, The New York Times says “the threat of jail [is] considered an effective incentive for people who are able but unwilling to pay.”

But critics of this policy believe this incentive traps “poor men in a cycle of debt, unemployment and imprisonment.” The cycle is believed to begin with the court order that requires the child support payee to pay an amount they cannot afford. Steep child support payments may never be paid or are paid occasionally but not in the full. As time passes, these payments become an incomprehensible amount of debt.

If the payment is not paid at all or in full, authorities withhold 65 percent of the payee’s paycheck, seize bank accounts and tax refunds, suspend driver and professional licenses and lastly impose jail time.

“Parents who are truly destitute go to jail over and over again for child support debt simply because they’re poor. We see many cases in which the person is released, they’re given three months to pay a large amount of money, and then if they can’t do that they’re tossed right back in the county jail,” says Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights. The group recently filed a lawsuit in Georgia for parents who are incarcerated for failing to pay child support but have no legal representation.

The New York Times says there is no national count of parents who are incarcerated for failing to pay their child support and enforcement to pay varies from state to state. Though, a survey claims in 2009, one in eight inmates in South Carolina was imprisoned for not paying their child support. In 2010, 3,500 parents were been imprisoned in Georgia for this reason, and 1,800 parents were given ankle monitors or jailed in two New Jersey counties during 2013.

It should also be noted, in some states if the parent who receives child support is on public assistance, the parent who pays child support must pay it back. By paying both child support and welfare reimbursement, most child support payees are not able to live above a practical income level. Therefore, those parents lag behind their bills, rent/mortgage or living expenses adding to their dire financial circumstances.

Many believe people should not conceive children they cannot afford, especially when child support plays a dramatic role in co-parenting. But that rule of thumb does not apply to those who have created children during their marriage. It is believed that Walter Scott, who was shot in the back while fleeing former Police Officer Mike Slager, did so because he didn’t want to have to go back to jail over unpaid child support. He has children conceived both with in and out of wedlock.

To read the full New York Times article, click here. Any thoughts on how we should re-regulate this issue?

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