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Failure to pay child support may lead to incarceration

Massachusetts parents who are divorcing may wonder what will happen when the noncustodial parent who is ordered to pay child support does not do so. While there are methods of enforcing child support payments, parents who are genuinely unable to meet their obligations could find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and incarceration.

Once a parent begins to fall behind on child support payments, the debt can mount and quickly become overwhelming. Some observers argue that the system unfairly penalizes parents who are poor. In Georgia, the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of poor people who had been sent to jail due to missed child support payments and who did not have attorneys.

Thousands of parents in various states go to jail annually for this infraction. One survey found that in 2009, around 12 percent of South Carolina inmates were in jail for failure to pay child support while two counties in New Jersey jailed or placed ankle monitors on 1,800 parents. Georgia had 3,500 parents incarcerated in 2010 for failure to comply with a child support order.

While some parents simply refuse to live up to their responsibilities, others may simply be incapable of doing so. Parents should keep this in mind when negotiating issues around child custody and support. Divorce can be an emotional time, and sometimes individuals can be driven by the idea of getting back at the other person. However, it is important to keep in mind that this does not serve the best interests of the child. Parents may wish to work with an attorney to try mediation or negotiation with the other parent. Agreeing upon a child support obligation that is feasible for both of them is better for parents and children in the long run.

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