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Should Texas parents go to jail for not paying child support?

If you're a single parent who receives child support payments, chances are good that you rely on that money to help cover your children's basic expenses -- that is, unless you don't receive it because their other parent either refuses or can't afford to pay. Depending on your circumstances, you may be for or against incarceration for parents who don't pay child support.

Texas has collected more in child support than any other state for the past five years. Last year Texas collected $3 billion in payments, a record-breaking figure Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott chalks up to the state's collection tactics. One of those is the threat of jail time. Incarceration for parents who repeatedly fail to pay child support is a topic that policy makers, legal professionals and parents have debated for years.

Advocates for incarceration say getting child support is important for children, who do better in school and have fewer behavioral problems than those whose noncustodial parent isn't involved in their lives. Some Texas parents who aren't receiving payments say if their exes aren't willing to contribute to their children's well-being, they might as well be in jail, paying the price of not paying what they owe. Some parents believe that jail time will not only "straighten out" the non-paying parent, but send a message to their children about the consequences of not following the law.

Other parents, however, argue that an inability to pay because of unemployment or a low income shouldn't be considered a crime. Furthermore, they say, sitting in jail won't make them any richer. According to one national child support study, more than 2.5 million noncustodial fathers of poor children have an income of less than $6,000 a year. Many of these parents have already had their driver's licenses suspended, their tax returns intercepted and their wages garnished. In Texas alone, imprisoned parents owe $2.5 billion in unpaid child support. Most are no closer to making good on their child support agreement than they were before they were jailed.

Consulting with a family law attorney can be helpful for both parents with custody and those who owe child support. Many times a modification of the monthly payment is better than no contribution at all. And if the paying parent's income rises later, you can always renegotiate.

Source: Victoria Advocate, "Should missed child support payments mean jail?" Gheni Platenburg, July 1, 2012

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