States Resorting to Jail to Collect Child Support

Florida and other states grapple with the problem of delinquent child support. Collecting child support helps custodial parents and helps the states by reducing the need for public assistance for parents who depend upon the timely receipt of the court-ordered payments.

Two generally accepted principles frame the debate over collecting child support. First, couples should not conceive children whom they cannot afford. However, in many cases the couple could afford a child at the time the child was born, but changes in personal situations may subsequently affect a parent's ability to meet the obligations. Continued failure to pay may result in jail time, an option states are using as a last resort.

Second, for people who are able but unwilling to pay, jail is a powerful incentive. However, many of the individuals in jail for failure to pay child support are poor men who do not have the ability to pay. A high child support award becomes a greater burden as a man falls further behind and incurs penalties on top of the unpaid child support. If he is in jail, he has no means to pay child support and upon release finds himself even further in debt.

The threat of jail for unpaid child support is a serious one. Many people believe that the man who was recently shot by a police officer in South Carolina was fleeing in order to avoid going back to jail for delinquent child support. A parent who is struggling to pay child support after becoming unemployed or suffering a similar adverse financial change may want to consult an attorney for advice. One possible option would be for the attorney to seek a modification of the original support order based upon the client's change in circumstances.

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