Texas residents may be familiar with stories involving so-called "deadbeat dads," or those parents who have been villianized for failure to make timely child support payments. Traditionally, many of these parents have been sent to prison. The rationale behind this punishment is to encourage parents to take these legally enforceable payments seriously, and not to miss them.
However, sending delinquent Texas parents to jail for failure to meet their child support obligations may not be the best solution. This is because once the parent is behind bars they are no longer able to earn a living and provide for their children. They also will not be able to spend quality time with their children, something that is generally not in the children's best interest. In addition, the cost of incarcerating a delinquent parent for back child support is expensive to taxpayers, and not a good use of resources.
If jail is not the answer, how can children be assured that they will be provided for financially by the parent who owes child support? At the very least, advocacy groups for delinquent parents are urging a right to counsel. This may be a step in the right direction to keep these parents out of so-called "debtor's prisons."
Another possibility may be to determine what the underlying problem is as to why a particular parent cannot meet their child support responsibilities.
Is it because they are currently unemployed with no income? If so, then prison certainly will not help, but skills and resources to help find a job just might.
Is the problem a drug or alcohol addiction? If so, then putting someone in jail will only be a temporary fix until that individual receives treatment.
The bottom line is that the traditional child support enforcement system is simply not in the children's best interest. Instead, advocates, families and the Texas court systems should work together to develop a plan as to how children will be cared for financially, resorting to jail only as a last resort.
Source: ABA Journal, "New Parental Accountability Court Helps Increase Child Support Payments While Cutting Jail Costs," Martha Neil, April 13, 2012