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Poor men disproportionately jailed for failure to pay support

The government continues to develop tools to motivate parents to pay court-ordered child support. These tools include administrative actions such as tax refund intercepts and wage garnishment. In New Jersey and elsewhere, some judges are turning to the threat of imprisonment as motivation to pay child support.

For parents who are able but unwilling to pay, the threat of jail may be an effective incentive. However, many individuals with child support delinquencies are poor African-American men. Some critics contend that placing these fathers in jail condemns them to a cycle of unemployment, debt and incarceration. A man who is in jail is not earning wages to pay child support, and he may find it very difficult to secure employment upon his release from jail. Failure to find employment precludes the ability to pay child support, and the cycle starts again.

Some states make significant use of incarceration for failure to pay child support. The prevailing view in support of this practice is that an individual should not conceive a child that they cannot afford to support. However, in some cases, both parents were able to support their child financially at the time the child was born, but changes in employment or financial circumstances have made payment of child support impossible.

Inability to pay child support may begin with an initial child support amount that is unaffordable. If an individual with a child support obligation finds that they can no longer afford to pay, they may consult with an attorney with experience in child support cases. The attorney may be able to seek approval of a downward modification in the child support order that is affordable for the noncustodial parent yet still fair to the custodial parent.

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