Dead Beat Dads, Moms and Football Stars

Terrell Owens will stand trial on Thursday, July 19th, for failure to pay child support. He could even face jail time. Owens was previously ordered to pay $5,000 per month to Melanie Smith, the mother of Owens’ 7-year-old daughter, who contends that Owens has been remiss in payments to the tune of $20,000.

In the U.S. an estimated 13.7 million parents had custody of 22.0 million children under 21 while the other parent lived somewhere else in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2010, 4.755 million people paid child support on behalf of children under 21. Still, of the $35.1 billion in child support due in 2009, only 61% was reported as received.

Child support delinquencies are still a huge problem. Despite severe penalties, only 60.7% of non-custodial parents are consistently current on payments in Georgia, as of fiscal year 2010. Penalties for delinquencies are far reaching, and can include seizure of property, suspension of licenses and even jail time. With 28.3% of all custodial parents below poverty, the absence of a payment can be particularly devastating.

Most child support payments are not as large as the ones T.O. owes; they average around $430 per month across the nation. Delinquencies often coincide with unemployment, with 22.6% of payers not working in the past 12 months, according to the 2010 census. However, even if a person is unemployed, they still owe child support.

In Georgia, a court can order you to find employment if you are unemployed or underemployed and as a result does not have the means to make child support payments. The “burden is on one who fails and refused to pay an award for alimony or child support to show that he has in good faith exhausted all of the resources at his command and has made a diligent and bona fide effort to comply with the decree awarding alimony or child support.” Not only do you have to prove that you are unemployed, you must prove that there is no way you can be employed.

Additionally, all tangible and intangible property can be considered to recoup payment for missed child support. The State may use collection procedures which include, but are not limited to:

  • Notification of employers that a wage assessment is in effect and not suspended
  • Notification of obligors
  • Demand letters
  • Use of state and federal income tax refund intercept programs
  • Initiation of contempt proceedings
  • The use of liens, levies, and seizures (as provided in subsections (b) and (c) of this Code section)
  • The use of the services of any person providing collection services to the department
  • Seeking warrants in appropriate situations
  • Attachment or lien against property
  • Civil actions to reach and apply
  • And any other civil or administrative remedy available for the enforcement of judgments or for the enforcement of support or custody orders
  • Intercepting lottery winnings of more than $2,500
  • Seizing bank accounts after notice

Georgia may imprison a person, such as Owens, if they find that they are willfully refusing to make child support payments. A person may be punished to the same extend as is provided by law for contempt of the court. However, “a person may not be imprisoned for failure to pay alimony [or child support] unless it is first found that he has the ability to pay but merely refuses to do so.”

If a payer of child support can demonstrate diminished means, then they may be able to modify their required payments. There is, however, a heavy burden of proof.

Additional Resources

Georgia Secretary of State Child Support Laws:

Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Child Support Services:

U.S. Census Bureau Social Insurance & Human Services Child Support, Head Start, Child Care:

U.S. Census Bureau Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009:

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