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Suit filed, argues "deadbeat parents" have right to an attorney, P.1

A lawsuit was recently filed in Futon County Superior court against the state of Georgia for its failure to provide legal representation to parents being held in prison for failure to pay child support.

The Southern Center of Human Rights filed the suit on Tuesday, arguing that Georgia maintains a system of "debtor prisons" in which parents who are unable to pay child support are put behind bars-sometimes for years-because of losing their jobs or disability, while their child support bills continue to grow during incarceration.

The suit, which includes the names six men as plaintiff, alleges that each of the men has made efforts to meet their financial obligations, but they have been unable to do so because of reasons out of their control. It also argues that the men are unable to make child support payments while they are in jail and unable to work. The suit seeks to secure for all parents facing incarcerated because of failure to pay child support the right to have an attorney appointed to their case.

According to a spokeswoman for the Southern Center of Human Rights, the case was filed on behalf of "hard-working parents who love their children but are carted off to jail when they fall behind in their child support payments often through no fault of their own."

Under Georgia law, individuals charged of a crime have the right to counsel and may not be placed in prison for more than 20 days. Georgia is one of only a few states in the nation that don't provide attorneys for indigent parents who face contempt hearings because of failure to pay child support.

In our next post, we'll continue to look at this issue.

Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Lawsuit: state should provide lawyers for delinquent child support payers," Rhonda Cook, 22 Mar 2011.

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