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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Child support suit seeks lawyers for indigent parents (1)

Last week, we reported on the nearly $20 million increase in child support collection from 2009 to 2010 in Georgia. Certainly, that is a positive development. Many parents rely on child support payments to pay their bills and make ends meet, and the state should do everything it can to help single parents get the money they need and deserve.

But a new lawsuit is alleging that the state is using unconstitutional means to achieve these collection gains. Specifically, the suit says that the state’s failure to provide defense attorneys for parents accused of failing to pay child support is an illegal infringement on those parents’ rights. Recently, the plaintiffs in that suit scored a major win when a Fulton County Superior Court judge granted them class-action status.

The lawsuit was brought by five parents who have been sentenced to jail after being convicted of contempt of court for failure to pay child support. They claim that, like any other defendants who face a potential jail sentence, they should have been provided a defense attorney if they could not afford one.

As of October of last year, the presiding judge noted, there were almost 850 parents in jail in Georgia for failure to pay child support as a result of cases filed by lawyers representing the Georgia Department of Human Services. Approximately 3,500 parents have been sentenced to jail without legal representation since January 2011.

According to attorney Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights, incarcerating defendants without providing them with an attorney is a flagrant violation of their rights. “Fairness requires that an indigent parent be appointed a lawyer in a case in which the state entity trying to send him to jail is represented by experienced, learned counsel,” she said.

We will continue our discussion of this lawsuit in a second blog post later this week.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Judge allows thousands to join child support lawsuit,” Bill Rankin, Jan. 3, 2012