JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Over the past year, about 20 people have been indicted on felony charges for not paying court-ordered child children.
“We go after the worst of the worst and try to create a deterrent,” Attorney General Jim Hood told The Clarion-Ledger.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services pursues so-called deadbeat parents through civil action.
“We are very aggressive. Our emphasis is on support,” said Division of Child Support Enforcement director Walley Naylor.
Under state law, nonpayment also is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Hood said his office has averaged about 20 indictments a year since 2008. This year, it expects to surpass that number as it takes on more cases.
“Pretty much everyone we indict is being sentenced,” Hood said.
The attorney general’s office has set up a loose set of criteria for the cases it pursues — parents often owe more than $10,000 and they have not made one payment in a year.
“We can’t prosecute them all,” Hood said.
Also typically all other avenues have been exhausted in chancery court and the parent is considered to be in contempt of a judge’s order.
Another factor, Hood said, is that his office makes every effort to ensure that the parent is able to work.
Since 2008, more than $600,000 has been ordered in child support payments.
“It’s still just a small part of those who are even in contempt of court,” Hood said.
Jackson attorney Mark Chinn, who has practiced family law for more than 20 years, said he applauds Hood’s efforts.
“Any aggressive action that can be taken is to be commended,” he said. “Anything that can be done should be done.”
Naylor said he appreciates Hood’s efforts, but the DHS division he heads takes a different approach.
“We view incarceration as a tool, but we recognize that it’s best used in short terms,” he said.
Naylor said he also hears from parents who say they don’t pay support because they think the other parent is using it to his or her own personal benefit. He said that’s damaging to the child.
“I’m not in the ex-wife support business or the ex-girlfriend support business,” Naylor said. “I’m in the child support business. That’s what you have to keep in mind — the child.”
Naylor said there also are those who are legitimately struggling to find jobs.
“You have both,” Naylor said. “Some people just refuse to pay, but we find more and more today – folks are just struggling.”
The amount of child support that is garnered through unemployment benefits has gone up nearly a third in the past year, he said.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.