An opionion piece by Brenda Manghane-Washington from the Chattanoogan.com
…I still believe there’s a need of reform in child support laws. As they stand, there is no distinction between a parent who can’t pay and a parent who refuses to pay child support. By incarcerating non-custodial parents who do not have the means to pay nothing is accomplished, the children still go without. Struggling communities continue to deteriorate, and now there’s an added burden of having a parent with a criminal record that can possibly later affect the child or children even more so in a negative way later in life. Upon release, the non-custodial parent is still without a job and now, with a criminal record, it will be even more difficult to find one that pays a livable wage.
Child support laws, as they presently operate, have become a modern day debtor’s prison. As the non-custodial parent in many states aren’t offered the benefit of legal representation, and without the benefit of looking at each case individually and evaluating the persons ability to pay.
In a case in Floyd County Georgia in 2011, Miller (along with five other plaintiffs) filed a class action lawsuit which in part stated: “Plaintiffs are indigent parents who have been jailed without counsel for being too poor to fulfill their court-ordered child support obligations. Some of the Plaintiffs have serious physical disabilities. Others have spent months looking for work, only to find none. All are destitute, but all have been or will likely be incarcerated.” Pursuant to civil contempt orders that condition their release on payment of enormous “purge fees.” Languishing in jail for weeks, months, and sometimes over a year, these parents share one trait in common besides their poverty: they went to jail without ever talking to an attorney. Not one plaintiff had an appointed attorney to explain to a court that, through no fault of his own, he had no ability to pay. Not one had an appointed attorney.
Randy Miller, a 39-year-old Iraqi war vet, who was originally sentenced to three months in prison for violating a court order to pay child support, is one of six individuals who filed the lawsuit. The judge who presided over the original case the sent him to prison for three months didn’t bother to take into account Miller’s financial situation, or the fact he’d fallen behind in support payments due having been out of work, nor the fact that he’d only recently gone back to work (similar case here in Chattanooga recently).
When Miller asked the judge to at least give him a month to catch up on payments the judge turned him down, and ordered him to prison. With his job being new, that job would not likely be waiting on him upon release three months later. So the cycle would start over again. Child (children) going without. Father absent, not necessarily by choice but by being incarcerated, and father getting locked up all over again at some point upon release for lack of employment, and now with a criminal record which would make it even more difficult to find employment. So who really wins? The courts? Who really lose? We all?
Child support laws are in serious need of reform in the state of Tennessee and in Chattanooga, as well as as other states, towns and cities. As they presently operate they do more to harm the child/children, and entire communities. In the end no one wins.
Read more HERE