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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Suit filed, argues “deadbeat parents” have right to an attorney, P.2

In our last post, we began looking at a New York Times article detailing a lawsuit that was recently filed against the state of Georgia for maintaining a system of “debtor prisons” which incarcerate parents for their inability to pay child support.

The suit, as we said, is seeking to have the state of Georgia provide attorneys for parents incarcerated for failure to pay child support, in the same way that it provides attorneys for anyone charged with a crime for which they could be incarcerated.

Six men have been named on the suit as plaintiffs, but the attorneys will be seeking class action status in order to assist all similarly situated individuals. All six of the men named in the suit became unemployed, for various reasons, prior to defaulting on child support. Some of them have been in jail multiple times because of inability to pay a “purge fee,” which is a fee allowing a parent to avoid jail time after defaulting on child support payments. That amount usually falls below the full amount of child support owed. Three of the named plaintiffs are veterans who had good payment histories until they lost their jobs because of a disability or the economy. None of the men have had attorneys when they have appeared in court.

But, not everybody is excited about the idea of providing adequate representation to “deadbeat parents.” Seth Harper of the Georgia Child Support Guidelines Commission said the cost of appointing lawyers for indigent parents “could devastate our system.” One potential consequence of requiring appointed attorneys, he said, is that if there isn’t enough money to provide an attorney for such parents, the possibility of jail time could go out the window, which would decrease the system’s ability to deal with parents who truly deserve to go to jail.

Even those opposed to requiring the appointing of attorneys for indigent parents, though, recognize that the recession has made child support payment more difficult for many parents. Mr. Harper told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I recognize many have lost their jobs, literally exhausted all their efforts to find work, exhausted their employment benefits. And I also know courts will often err heavily against the parent who’s being brought into court. The philosophy is, ‘We’ve got to take care of the children.'”

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