The article below is illustrative of the problems with the child support system in many ways:

1) I’ve often made the point that when we jail or threaten to jail child support debtors and they pay money to stay out of jail, this money often is not theirs but instead money they’ve borrowed from their family and friends. Yet inevitably whatever chest-thumping/publicity-seeking DA who’s behind the latest crackdown will tell you, “See? The deadbeats have the money and the threat of jail makes them pay!”

In this article, a judge is admitting that threatening to jail people means they borrow money from family members to stay out. He’s admitting that they don’t have the money to pay themselves, and that they’re being jailed for inability to pay their debts. In other words, debtor’s prison.

2) I’m not sure if we have any Father of the Year candidates in this article, but most of the “deadbeats” certainly seem to be low-income men whose ability to pay is questionable. We’re told two of their occupations–one is a roofer, the other is a construction worker–and both claim they’re having a hard time finding work. One of them says that the fact that his driver’s license was suspended for nonpayment of child support has made it more difficult to find work.

3) Most notable is the article’s assertion that Andrew Tayrien was sentenced to “20 years in prison for non-support, a class B felony.” Twenty years? Is that a misprint?

4) The article mentions the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration’s Office of Child Support Enforcement’s new top Child Support Evaders list, which can be found here. Of the six listed, the biggest “deadbeat” is a waitress. We also have one youth camp worker, and four people who are so successful in their careers that the DFA doesn’t even know what their occupations are.

Oh, and tell me, when they catch the waitress, are they going to sentence her to 20 years in prison?

The piece is below. Tracy M. Neal, who wrote it, doesn’t seem to understand the implications of the facts in her own article–she can be reached at tracyn@nwanews.com.

Thanks to child support expert Jane Spies of the National Family Justice Association for sending me the article. Jane discusses problems with the child support system in her recent article The Myth of the Successful Child Support System.

SUNDAY FOCUS : Big child-support bills could result in jail time
By Tracy M. Neal Staff Writer / tracyn@nwanews.com
November 11, 2007

BENTONVILLE — Child support or jail.

That was the rule Circuit Judge Xollie Duncan stressed to people recently as they were called before her for failure to pay child support.

Duncan and Circuit Judge John Scott set aside a day each month to hear such cases.

“The rule is you pay child support or you go to jail,” Duncan said to Richard McKeever. “You understand that.”

McKeever was arrested for failure to pay child support. He owes more than $23,500. He claims he works part time in a construction job and received $215 several days ago.

“I’ve been trying to make enough to live,” McKeever told the judge.

McKeever claims he works with an acquaintance who drove him to job sites. McKeever is hampered from finding a better job because he lost his driver’s license — one of the punishments for his failure to pay child support.

Michael Shoane, an attorney for the local Child Support Enforcement Office, described McKeever as an able-bodied man who can work.

“Did you pay at least $10 toward support from the $215 you earned?” Duncan asked McKeever.

McKeever hadn’t.

“You are going to spend your holidays in jail,” the judge said.

She scheduled a review hearing for Jan. 9. McKeever can be released if he pays $4,500 of the child support.

Another man — Tommy Martin — claims he lives with his mother and last worked several months ago, roofing with his cousin.

Martin owes $35,000 in child support.

He is currently serving 78 days in the Benton County Jail from a sentence in Lowell City Court.

“I would like to get a steady job so they can take it out of my paycheck,” Martin said.

“You waited until you were $35,000 in arrears?” Duncan asked. “Don’t you think that’s a little long to be waiting?”

Martin will be in jail until a Jan. 9 review hearing.

McKeever’s and Martin’s cases are the result of lawsuits brought by Child Support Enforcement, but other such cases also make it to criminal court.

Circuit Judge David Clinger recently sentenced Andrew Tayrien to 20 years in prison for non-support, a class B felony. Tayrien owes more than $50,000 in child support. He must serve at least one-sixth of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.

Three men were on the docket in Duncan’s court recently, but Duncan and Scott also have cases involving women who have not paid support for their children.

Some of those women were jailed for not living up to the court’s order toward child support, the judges said.

Duncan and Scott stressed that the vast majority of parents who are supposed to pay child support do so, but others need attention from the court in order to live up to their obligations.

“The money seems to come out of the woodwork when you send people to jail,” Scott said. “I’ve had people get in touch with family members for the money before we can even transport them to jail.”

Besides jail, Scott said, he has ordered some to perform community services. He sent some men to help clean brush and tree limbs after a large freeze.

As in McKeever’s case, the state can authorize that an individual’s commercial or regular driver’s license can be suspended for failure to pay child support. Recreational licenses, permanent license plates, professional and business licenses can also be suspended, according to the state Office of Child Support Enforcement’s Web site.

OSCE also has a Web site with photographs of its top child-support evaders. The Web address is http://www.arkansas.gov/dfa/child_support/ocse_evaders.php.

Individuals on the Web site have not made a child-support payment in at least six months, owe at least $5,000 and are wanted by the state’s OCSE for nonpayment of child support, according to the Web site. 

www.GlennSacks.com, Glenn Sacks

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