In Virginia, if you fall far enough behind in your child support payments, you might go to jail. But some people involved in family law matters are starting to think this is not the best way to get kids the money they deserve for basic necessities.
According to The Washington Post, an emphasis on helping parents find a way to meet their child support obligations is slowly spreading through Virginia. Today, 31 courts in the commonwealth participate in a program that tries to help parents facing jail over child support debt find jobs and whatever other aid they need to solve the problem.
This is a new way of looking at unpaid child support. Under the law, judges can order jail time for a parent who owes enough child support, which is considered a form of contempt of court. But there is a difference between parents who can afford to pay and choose not to, and those who struggle with poverty.
Official acknowledgement of this distinction seems to be a big part of the changing attitudes in the commonwealth. Though jail sentences are fairly rare in cases of unpaid child support, about 6,000 people ended up behind bars last year because of it. Most of them were low-income fathers, often with few job prospects because of a lack of education, a criminal record or both.
In Virginia Beach, reforming the system has taken the form of Club Reinvent, where men who owe child support meet once a week. These fathers have been ordered by the court to participate as an alternative to incarceration. The head of the program says that about 150 men have gone through Club Reinvent. Of those, 85 have found work.
Child support issues can arise in families of any income, both during a divorce and afterward. Those with questions about their individual situation should consult with a family law attorney.