Many are aware that failure abide by a court order to pay child support comes with several consequences, including: contempt citation, garnishment, revocation of hunting, fishing and driver's license, and passport denial. However, many parents may not be aware that failure to pay child support in the state of Georgia may also constitute a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment.
Georgia statutory law regarding the criminal offense of non-support, formerly referred to as child abandonment, states in relevant part:
"(a) A child abandoned by its father or mother shall be considered to be in a dependent condition when the father or mother does not furnish sufficient food, clothing, or shelter for the needs of the child. (b) If any father or mother willfully and voluntarily abandons his or her child, either legitimate or born out of wedlock, leaving it in a dependent condition, he or she shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Moreover, if any father or mother willfully and voluntarily abandons his or her child, either legitimate or born out of wedlock, leaving it in a dependent condition, and leaves this state or if any father or mother willfully and voluntarily abandons his or her child, either legitimate or born out of wedlock, leaving it in a dependent condition, after leaving this state, he or she shall be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than three years. The felony shall be reducible to a misdemeanor. Any person, upon conviction of the third offense for violating this Code section, shall be guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned for not less than one nor more than three years, which felony shall not be reducible to a misdemeanor. The husband and wife shall be competent witnesses in such cases to testify for or against the other."
O.C.G.A. § 19-10-1(a)-(b). Although the above cited statute does not explicitly set out what constitutes willful and voluntary abandonment, Georgia case law interpreting this statue suggests that failure to pay court ordered child support may subject a non-custodial parent to prosecution pursuant to this statute. For example, in Carter v. State, 287 Ga. App. 463 (2007), father was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $114 per month. He failed to make those court ordered payments in April 2003, December 2003, April 2004, May 2004, July 2004, September 2004, October 2004, January 2005, March 2005, and August 2005. As a result, he was charged with and convicted of ten counts of misdemeanor child abandonment. On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial courts judgment, because sufficient evidence was presented at trial indicating that the defendant failed to meet his obligation despite being employed and having the ability to pay. Id.
Criminal non-support is a serious offense, and as outlined in the above cited statute it may constitute either a misdemeanor or a felony. If convicted of misdemeanor abandonment, a parent may face up to 12 months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. O.C.G.A. §17-10-3. If convicted of felony abandonment, a parent may face up to three years of incarceration. O.C.G.A. § 19-10-1(b).
Although civil contempt actions are generally the preferred method for custodial parents to enforce child support orders in Georgia, a custodial parent wishing to initiate criminal proceedings against a non-custodial parent for failure to pay child support may contact their counties Solicitor's Office or Prosecuting Attorney's Office.