Since the recession hit, many Atlanta-area fathers have had a hard time keeping up with their child support obligations. The Georgia Department of Human Services estimates that 40 percent of non-custodial parents who owe child support aren't making payments. Of these parents, 91 percent are fathers.
Nonpayment of child support has negative impacts on everyone involved. Most important, of course, is the fact that the children don't get the financial support they need. The fathers, though, face some major hurdles as well - as the arrears grow and interest accrues, the debt can seem impossible to pay off. Some dads end up in jail, while others find it difficult to secure the professional licensures they need to get a good job.
Some Georgia counties have attempted to remedy this problem by creating special Parental Accountability Courts for parents who owe back child support.
The courts work with parents to address roadblocks to making child support payments. Common issues include unemployment, lack of transportation or substance abuse. The courts also help parents set up a realistic payment plan to pay off arrears.
Parents can choose to participate in the program as an alternative to spending time in jail on contempt charges.
By all accounts, the courts seem to be having a tremendous amount of success. Parents like the program because it helps fathers rebuild their relationships with their children while also ensuring that the kids have sufficient financial support. The state likes the program because it saves money - on average, it costs $1,500 to jail an individual for non-payment of child support. In the first year of its program, Hall County collected an additional $45,000 in child support payments and saved $178,000 in incarceration costs.
If you are behind in your child support payments, ask your lawyer if a Parental Accountability Court program might be right for you.