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Should parents who owe back child support go to jail?

Photo of Karen Lavin


Paying child support is important. When Illinois parents fail to do so, they may face a variety of legal consequences. The biggest arrow in the quiver of consequences is jail. But is that arrow fair? And, even if it is fair, should it be used?

The idea behind the threat of jail, of course, is that it will light a fire underneath the feet of parents who fail to pay. No one wants to go to jail after all. But that incentive should be balanced against the resulting harm: a jailed parent cannot work and thus cannot make money to pay for child support. That sequence invites a downward spiral of continual non-payment.

How does this cycle begin? Often with a poor decision by a court that sets the child support award too high. These payments can tax a non-custodial parent's ability to pay for other necessities, which can force the parent to go in debt to make ends meet. Each month the financial hole grows deeper and deeper until the parent simply cannot pay their child support (not to mention their other debts).

These types of parents can go to jail again and again -- just because they do not have the money to pay. Each time they do, they fall deeper into the financial abyss.

What is a non-custodial parent to do? They can request that the court reduces the child-support amount to a more manageable number.

But that can be hard for a parent to do on their own. They are busy trying to tread water and they are often unfamiliar with the legal procedure they must navigate. For these Illinoisans, speaking with an experienced Illinois child-support attorney could be the first step toward financial relief.

Source: Madame Noire, "Should men go to jail when they fail to pay child support?" Lauren R.D. Fox, accessed on Aug. 11, 2015

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