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Prison and failure to pay child support in Massachusetts

Ensuring that non-custodial parents pay child support is sometimes a challenge for the justice system, and states have various measures in place to enforce child support payment arrangements. In many states, parents who fail to pay child support can have certain funds garnished and can be sent to prison. According to a report in The New York Times, the threat of prison is believed to be an effective incentive for parents who have the ability to pay but refuse to do so.

Critics of this system argue that it has a debilitating effect on the poor. The problem starts with child support assessments that are too high relative to the non-custodial parent's income. When the parent pays only partially or fails to make payments at all, the debt burden becomes overwhelming. A series of punitive measures, including the partial seizure of paychecks, bank accounts and tax refunds, ensues. The final measure can be jail time.

According to the critics, jail time only makes a parent's financial situation worse. When people in jail for failure to pay child support are released, they are usually given only a short time to pay back the full amount. When they fail to do so, they are returned to prison. The result is a repeating cycle of prison and debt from which most people find it impossible to escape. Although there is no national data on incarceration related to child support, at least one survey shows one in eight inmates in South Carolina are imprisoned for not paying child support, and thousands of inmates are facing the same situation in Georgia and New Jersey.

Legal representation may be an effective aid for a non-custodial parent faced with financial difficulties. An attorney may be able to help secure child support modification to allow the parent time to regain financial stability and continue to provide for their children.

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