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February 17, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Every six months, New Jersey counties conduct “sweeps” of parents who are behind on their child support obligations. And every six months, the news media uniformly refer to those debtors as “deadbeats.” Parents are detained by sheriff’s deputies and threatened with jail if they don’t pay up. Draconian and abusive as the police actions and coverage by the media are, they serve one important purpose. They demonstrate, however backhandedly, the cold realities of the child support system. Here’s one article on the latest sweeps in the Garden State (NJ.com, 2/10/16).

The Mercer County Sheriff's Office last week ended a three-day sweep of so-called 'deadbeat parents' that resulted in the arrest of 133 people for delinquent child support payments, authorities said.

The statewide sweep involved all 21 New Jersey counties ending Thursday. In Mercer County, officers arrested a record number of people and collected more than $40,000 from parents who owed child support payments, the sheriff's office said.

There they are, the deadbeat parents. They’re the ones who care so little about their children and their obligations to them that they refuse to pay a little just to keep the tykes alive. Such, at any rate is what we’re supposed to conclude from the description of the “deadbeats.”

"In most every instance, those caught in the sweep had dodged every effort to pay their court-ordered child support obligations," Mercer County Sheriff Jack Kemler said in a release. "Many of those taken into custody were habitual child support evaders.''

See what I mean? They’re “habitual child support evaders” who’ve “dodged every effort to pay their court-ordered child support obligations.” They’re the lowest of the low, right?

But wait, are they really? Let’s see, sheriff’s deputies detained 133 people, who, when faced with going to jail, ponied up a grand total of about $300 apiece. Of course, the state won’t lift a finger against someone who’s only $300 in arrears, so we know that the people taken into custody in fact owed far more than that. In years past, the news media reported not only on how much was collected in these sweeps, but how much the parents owed as well. Those articles invariably revealed the state collecting between one and two cents per dollar owed. My guess is that the same is true this time around.

The simple truth is that the people detained are too poor to pay what they owe. Faced with jail, they manage just $300 on average to keep their freedom. That of course is right in line with what the Office of Child Support Enforcement has long reported. Some 63% of child support debtors report earning under $10,000 per year. Needless to say, when a parent earns that little, they can’t afford to hire a lawyer to go to court to attempt to get a downward modification on what they owe.

So the arrears go up and up, at which point states start tacking on interest. Until very recently, states were charging these poor parents as much as 12% per annum on what they owed and 10% was common. Those usurious rates have been decreased, usually by about half, but that’s still 5% - 6% per year added on to base rates that the OCSE says courts set at levels non-custodial parents can’t pay.

To its credit, this article finally actually manages to mention, however briefly, the reality of child support in the U.S (The Trentonian, 2/10/16) .

Most of the alleged “deadbeats” lacked the means to make immediate payments.

Ah, comes the dawn! But the sentence is buried in a whole article that paints these parents as, well, “deadbeats.” They’re not deadbeats, they’re poor. Until we grasp that basic concept – until the news media report that basic concept – we’ll continue to treat parents with few financial resources as uncaring about their kids and irresponsible to boot. As long as we misconceive the reality of the child support system, we’ll continue to be enraged by “deadbeats” and wonder why people don’t support their kids.

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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