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Celebrating 10th anniversary, Hall County Parental Accountability Court passes $1 million in collected child support
Parental Accountability Court Coordinator Ashely Watson stands with Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver and Child Support Services division manager Patricia Huling. Having celebrated its 10th anniversary in January, the accountability court has collected $1 million in owed child support payments while helping parents with issues such as substance abuse and illiteracy. Provided by Jessi Emmett

A Hall County court program focusing on helping parents pay child support has reached both a 10th anniversary and a $1 million milestone in money collected in its cases.

Launched in January 2011, the Parental Accountability Court is the first program of its kind in the state to reach the million-dollar mark, according to Hall County court officials.

The Parental Accountability Court is one of several accountability court programs offered through Hall County Treatment Services. Other accountability courts include Drug Court, DUI Court and Veterans Court. These programs look for alternatives to incarceration to tackle issues, such as substance use and mental health, for participants.

Defense attorney Jason Burruss said the clients he has recommended to the program are people who come in for a consultation and are in arrears for a considerable amount.

“Going to jail doesn’t help anybody out,” Burruss said. “When they go into (Parental Accountability Court), it gives them an opportunity to be put on a payment plan and to be held accountable on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.”

Burruss said he has seen a “tremendous response” from clients, adding that those that are eligible are often successful.

“I’ve seen guys come in the program who basically had no work history and no real connection with the kids, and a year into it, they’ve got a really good-paying job and mom is letting them see the kids again because they are paying child support on a regular basis,” attorney Jordan Posey said. “They’ve stopped doing drugs and got clean. It’s incredible the kind of response that we get from people on this thing.”

Hall County Treatment Services Director Jessi Emmett said the program started under Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver’s direction. The genesis of the program, like many of the other accountability court programs, started because of the “revolving door” in the court system, with judges seeing the same people again and again facing possible contempt of court and jail time for not meeting their child support obligations.

“That just kind of further digs them in this hole, which isn’t productive at all for the noncustodial parent, the custodial parent or the children,” Emmett said. “I think seeing that revolving door is really what kind of sparked this discussion and her wanting to make some substantial changes.”

According to the program, people eligible for Parental Accountability Court “must be incarcerated or be in contempt of court for failure to pay child support/child abandonment or referred in lieu of incarceration by a Superior Court judge, have a child support case within the Northeastern Judicial Circuit and an active contempt by the Department of Child Support Services, be the non-custodial parent, and be clear of any pending violent felony charges and/or holds to include those from other jurisdictions.”

In 2020, the court served 35 people and collected $415,102. Emmett said the court program has continued to grow over the past five years, as they served 26 people and collected $107,619 in 2019.

To graduate, a participant must make 100% of their monthly payments for six consecutive months.

While the other accountability court programs often involve those charged criminally, Emmett said some of the same issues of substance use and mental health were present for participants in Parental Accountability Court. 

Because it is housed under the Hall County Treatment Services umbrella, participants can be connected to the counseling services offered by the other programs.