Back in 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges can't send individuals to jail just because they're too poor to pay their bills. The decision in Bearden v. Georgia is widely seen as ending what was once called debtors' prisons.
But as National Public Radio reported a year ago, it didn't eliminate the threat of possible incarceration in all cases. In those in which it is determined that a person has the ability to pay their obligations but willfully chooses not to, jail remains a possibility.
The circumstances could include situations in which child support has been missed. This is something we wrote about in a post back in October. The case didn't involve a situation in Mississippi, but it did highlight that authorities and the courts still exercise some leverage in cases where a parent has chosen to ignore court-ordered child support obligations.
This was on display more recently in Jackson, Mississippi, when a 36-year-old man pleaded guilty to child desertion. According to the attorney general, the man admitted to failing to pay $34,000 in child support. As a result of his plea in Rankin County, he was sentenced to five years in state prison. That time was suspended so the man can make good on what he owes, but the threat of jail lingers if he fails to meet the obligation.
What this reflects is the reality that state law holds parents accountable for ensuring that the best interests of their children are met. At the same time, the state is serious about assuring the welfare of children and to seeing that the burden of it to taxpayers is kept to a minimum.
However, the state system of setting payments is meant to ensure that child support is fair. And if conditions in the support-paying parent's life change, the law also allows for the possibility of modification. Parents needing remedies in this regard owe it to themselves and their children to work with an experienced attorney.