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Should parents unable to pay child support be appointed lawyers?

Should delinquent child support payers be appointed an attorney? There are a few states that currently do not provide court-appointed attorneys for parents who are in contempt for not making their child support payments.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard an appeal from a man who was sentenced to jail after not paying child support. Now others are following suit, arguing that indigent parents have a constitutional right to have the court appoint an attorney if the parent cannot afford one, just as they would do for any other individual facing jail time.

The lawsuit filed in Georgia contains the names of six parents who are currently serving time for delinquent child support payments. The intention of this lawsuit is to protect the rights of parents who have come upon difficult financial circumstances and could be incarcerated for failure to make child support payments.

Critics of the lawsuit state that there is not enough money to provide representation for defendants in child support cases. One concern is the possibility that parents who fail to make their child support payments may never receive jail time if this lawsuit succeeds.

Supporters of the suit have stated that the recession is to blame for many parents' delinquent payments. Many of these parents were not intentionally avoiding payments, but had lost their jobs and were unable to find other employment opportunities.

One parent named in the suit has been jailed three times within the last year for failing to make monthly child support payments. The 36-year-old man has been living on the streets after losing his job at a factory.

Another father, a 39-year-old war veteran, lost his job a few years ago and watched his home go into foreclosure. He was jailed late last year after being unable to make child support payments. The man says that his biggest concern is being able to find a job after being released from prison. He fears that the lack of job prospects will just put him back in jail.

Though this particular lawsuit was filed in Georgia, the implications of the outcome of the case could potentially change the way that courts approach delinquent child support payers.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution online, "Lawsuit: State should provide lawyers for delinquent child support payers," Rhonda Cook, 22 March 2011

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