There is an ancient legend that has given us the expression “cutting the Gordian knot”. This means to find a bold solution to a complex problem. The legend is that Gordius, an ancient king of Phrygia, (that was located in what is now Turkey) tied a knot that said whoever undid the knot would rule Asia. The legend says that Alexander the Great when he was confronted with the knot did not try to untie it but rather cut it. Thus he found a bold answer to what seemed to others an impossible problem.
All of us have times in life when we need to “think outside the box”. Can you imagine what it must feel like to be the non-custodial parent of a child? Your family situation is far from ideal. It must seem at times that the “hole” of financial obligation is only growing. You may want to do what is right, but you don’t see how you can meet your obligation. The truth is that at some point, the courts step in and failure to pay child support can lead to your arrest.
Now you are faced with a modern “Gordian Knot.” It does not matter what you might want to do, you can’t gain on the problem while you are incarcerated. Your child or children are not getting the support they need. You have become an expense to the state and county. And this is compounded, most of the time, by the cost to the state to meet the needs of your family.
In 2013, Judge Horace Johnson of the Alcovy Circuit called for the establishment of a Parent Accountability Court in Newton County. The program was expanded to Walton County in 2014. The Parent Accountability Court Coordinator is Richard Kringer. He is a veteran of 24 years of service in the U.S. States Army.
Some would call this “the Problem Solving Court”, as this program can become a way through to those who feel trapped in this cycle of being unable to meet their obligations. The program is designed to handle up to twenty five participants, currently there are fifteen in the program. This is a one year program. The goals of the program include giving a hand up to those who feel overwhelmed, reducing the financial burden on the family as well as the government, and also helping to break the cycle of repeating this pattern of not being able to meet one’s obligation as a parent.
There are three basic parts to the program leading to success. The first is a thorough assessment. This includes writing a five hundred word essay, “Why I want to be in the Parent Accountability Court Program.” This deals with both short term and long term goals. It confronts the applicant with the question, “Why should I help take care of my children?” There is also a four part “Life Skills Class”. Attendance to these classes is a requirement. These are offered by members of the Spring Baptist Church. There is also a review of the possibility of reinstating the participant’s driver’s license.
Following the acceptance into the program there are several commitments to be met. There is the requirement of regular attendance at group session, as well as to meet with the coordinator as specified. The participant must invest forty hours a week in job searches. Throughout the program there is the need for clear communication and cooperation with Division of Child Support Services.
Upon completion of the initial phase, there is the need to obtain full-time employment. This is the key to having the ability to help with the support of one’s family. This has to be at least a period of three to six months. Also in this second phase there is a process of negotiations to start paying back to the state any arrears owed. There is also a time to seek restoration of access and visitation with one’s children.
There are limits to who can be in this program. To be in the program there must be a Georgia Department of Children’s Service case where there is either a pending arrest or the potential participant is already incarcerated for failure to pay child support. Violent offender are not eligible to participate in the program. There cannot be a pending criminal case that could impact one’s participation in the program.
We have all come to points in our lives, where we at first can’t see the way through. This Accountability Court is a great example of the community and legal system coming together to help those caught up in situations that they cannot see their way. This program saves the tax payers some expenses, it helps the non-custodial parent to be more meaningful in their child’s life, and most importantly it helps meet the needs of the children involved.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington