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Con: Parents who fail to pay child support should not go to jail

By Gheni_Platenburg
July 1, 2012 at 2:01 a.m.
Updated July 2, 2012 at 2:02 a.m.


Pro: To read why parents who skip child support payments should go to jail, click here.

Pay rent or pay child support.

That is the dilemma many parents face on a monthly basis.

Both are important obligations, but choosing the first could potentially land parents in a place they do not want to live - the big house.

The possibility of her husband going to jail for non-payment of child support is something that has crossed the mind of Port Lavaca resident Monica Myers before.

Myers' husband is obligated to pay child support for his daughter.

Although he makes his payments on time because of wage garnishment, Myers' husband is left with little else.

If unfortunate circumstances were to occur, leaving him jobless, incarceration could be a likely consequence.

"There should be more understanding in the judicial system and look at the whole story," said Myers. "I don't think it's conducive. If you can't pay to support your child, going to jail is not going to help that."

The majority of fathers who do not pay simply cannot afford to do so, Solangel Maldonado, a professor of law at Seton Hall, found in her study "Deadbeat or Dead Broke: Redefining Child Support for Poor Fathers."

According to the study, more than 2.5 million fathers who do not have custody of poor children are poor themselves, earning less than $6,000 a year.

Child support orders for low-income non-custodial fathers are in the range of 20 to 35 percent of income, Maureen Pirog-Good noted in her scholarly article, "In Kind Contributions as Child Support: The Teen Alternative Parenting Program." She is a professor at Indiana University.

In recent years, child support enforcement agencies have aggressively pursued parents who do not pay child support by intercepting their tax returns; suspending their drivers' licenses; booting their vehicles; and garnishing their wages up to 65 percent of their take-home pay, which is the federal limit on wage garnishment for debt purposes; and initiating criminal proceedings, according to Maldonado's study.

Parents who are in Texas prisons owe $2.5 billion in unpaid child support to children who live in Texas, according to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Harry J. Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, argues that some leeway must be given to parents who are truly unable to meet their financial obligations.

"States should be encouraged and assisted in efforts to review the practices by which child support orders are developed for low-income men-often without any direct evidence of their potential earnings?" Holzer wrote in his study "Declining Employment among Young Black Less-Educated Men: The Role of Incarceration and Child Support." "Arrearage forgiveness efforts need to be explored for non-custodial fathers who make a good-faith effort to keep up with current orders, especially if arrears have accumulated while they were incarcerated or otherwise unable to work."

Courts should take other factors such as time spent with children into consideration before mandating jail time.

"Fathers may be attempting to compensate for their inability to financially support their children by spending more time with them," according to Maldonado's study.

Many agree the courts should focus more on creating programs to help struggling parents rather than punish them for what they do not have.

"Until the government is successful in helping poor fathers obtain stable, well-paying jobs, child support policies should encourage them to contribute to their children in ways that do not require cash payments," wrote Maldonado.

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