Should Jail Time be a Last Resort for Failure to Pay Child Support?

As originally reported by TMZ, Jermaine Jackson, well known singer and member of The Jackson 5, may have fallen behind in child support payments but it appears he may have taken care of his arrears after all. TMZ reported that Jackson was falling farther and farther behind on the $3,000 per month child support that he has been ordered to pay to Alejandra Jackson for their 17-year-old son, Jafaar, and 13-year-old son, Jermajesty. He also reportedly had $12,000 in child support arrears that were owed, of which he had allegedly only paid $85. TMZ also reported that L.A. County Child Support Services Department had filed papers asking the court to hold Jackson in contempt, which could have ended up landing him in jail.

Child Playing in FieldBut is jail really the best answer for parents who have been obligated to pay child support, but who are failing to pay? Perhaps there are some legitimate reasons why jail time should be the very last resort. Courts seem to agree. It is much more common for a court to order a form of interception of the income of the person who owes child support (i.e. wage garnishments, taking tax refunds, etc.), revoke his or her license, or even impose fines before sending the person behind bars. The reason courts are more inclined to do this is because they are focused on getting the money to the children rather than punishing the offender. After all, the Court’s ultimate goal is to promote what is in the best interests of the children by fostering the relationship between the children and the parents and by making sure that the children’s needs are taken care of.

The purpose of jail time for parents who are delinquent on child support (and who are found to be in contempt of court) is to attempt to coerce him or her into paying the child support that has been ordered. However, if the person who is behind on child support payments gets locked up behind bars then he or she has less chance of earning the income necessary to pay the child support. Also, jail time will likely just further alienate him or her from the children.

Thus, time behind bars for failure to pay child support seems like it would just end up causing more detriment than benefit, especially to the children involved. Since the Court’s goal is to protect the children, it makes sense that jail time should be a last resort in these situations. As for Jackson, it appears that he has made amends in some way, though, as the father and his two sons were spotted out together in Los Angeles in November 2013 – just about a month after his potential legal troubles broke news.

If you are considering a divorce from your spouse or have questions regarding the enforcement of child support orders, please contact our experienced attorneys.

Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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