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New Parental Accountability Court Helps Increase Child Support Payments While Cutting Jail Costs

Posted Apr 13, 2012 9:53 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Serving time didn't help Ricky Smith stay on track paying child support, plus it cost the state of Georgia a significant amount of money.

But the Hall County Parental Accountability Court had more success, pointing the 42-year-old in the right direction concerning not only his monetary obligations but his duties as a dad, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

“I’ve been divorced for 10 years. He’s had no regular contact with my children,” his ex-wife, Michelle, told the newspaper. “He’s done a tremendous turnaround. Not only is he making child support payments, he’s seeing the children regularly.”

One of a growing number of such courts in the state, Hall County's program focuses on offering support to address the problems that prevent parents from paying and eliminating excuses for not anteing up, the article explains.

Burke, Carroll, Columbia, Coweta, Fannin, Fulton, Gilmer, Hall, Pickens and Richmond counties also have parental accountability courts and Henry County is in the process of establishing one.

The move comes at a time when advocacy groups are urging courts to recognize a right to counsel in child-support cases that can put parents into "debtors prisons," the newspaper notes. The Southern Center for Human Rights made this argument in a Fulton County lawsuit last month, and Sarah Geraghty, an attorney for the group, said the parental accountability courts offer a welcome improvement to the traditional enforcement system.

"People who owe child support need jobs," she said. "Too often the response to nonpayment is jail. In many cases, especially where the parent has been unable to find work in this slow economy, jail doesn’t really solve the problem."

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Can’t Pay Court Costs? Jail Is Alternative, in Florida & Other States"

ABAJournal.com: "Debtors’ Prisons a Reality for Defendants Unable to Pay Fees and Fines"

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