Parents behind on child support payments given alternative

John C. Cook’s life was a mess. He was divorced, and child support payments for his three children were so far in arrears he feared there was no way to catch up.

Then in May 2005, the law intervened. Cook landed in jail for driving under the influence and he was held on contempt for missed child support payments.

Instead of the judge scrutinizing him for his past failures, Cook said, “I got the chance to talk to him about my life.”

Cook, 34, had been upended by his divorce. His ex-wife had custody of their three children. He started to drink to deal with the emotional pain. And even though he loved his children, he just couldn’t hold a job long enough to get a paycheck.

“I had hit bottom,” Cook said recently.