August 17, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
What prompted this article, I can only guess (Arkansas Democrat Gazette, 8/14/16). It’s about whether Arkansas child support authorities treat male and female child support obligors the same. What raised the issue?
William Threet of Little Flock believes men and women are treated differently by the courts and the Office of Child Support when it comes to paying child support.
Threet became ill and lost his job a few years ago. He soon fell behind in his child support. He was threatened with jail by a deputy if he did not pay $2,000, he said. He thinks a man who is behind on child support payments is punished quicker with longer jail stays than a woman in the same position.
One man asserting that the system is sexist was enough to prompt an article, replete with indignant denials by various state officials? That would be strange to say the least. Face it, most everyday folks who voice their lone opinions about issues don’t merit an article in the state’s leading newspaper. They’re uniformly ignored. The only way to get the attention of the mainstream news media is to assemble a critical mass of complainants and make a stink.
So it’s odd that the article exists at all. Its very existence suggests that someone somewhere is a bit touchy on the subject of whether sexism stalks the halls of Arkansas courts.
But whatever the case, state officials are anxious to explain that no such sexism occurs.
Sarah Blevins stood in a Benton County court last month to explain why she had not paid her court-ordered child support.
She had paid $98 since April and owes more than $15,000 in back child support.
Blevins, who lives in Carroll County, is among the 10 percent of female noncustodial parents whose cases are handled by the Arkansas Office of Child Support. Men make up 90 percent of the noncustodial parents in cases handled by the office, said Jake Bleed, a spokesman for the office.
(Yes, the spokesperson for the state’s Office of Child Support is named Jake Bleed. Some things you just can’t make up.)
Bleed said women and men are treated the same when it comes to paying child support…
"Men and women are treated equally -- the rules and guidelines for the management of a child support case are the same regardless of the gender of the custodial or noncustodial parent," Bleed said.
And Bleed isn’t the only one to take the oath.
Washington County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Durrett said it's a common misconception that men are treated more harshly.
"Everybody thinks that, especially the men who are noncustodial parents," Durrett said. "Those are some of the angriest calls we get."
Ben Roberds, a Bentonville attorney, also said child support cases are handled the same for men and women. The huge discrepancy between the number of men and women who are noncustodial parents may be one factor that creates confusion, Roberds said.
Durrett said he doesn't keep up with the numbers, but custodial parents are overwhelmingly female.
That Durrett “doesn’t keep up with the numbers” raises an interesting issue: there aren’t any. Yes, while all of these enforcement officials are busy promising that Arkansas treats non-custodial parents uniformly, irrespective of sex, they also admit that, well, no one maintains data on the subject.
[Bleed] also said the office does not keep statistics about the number of people jailed in child support cases….
Benton County Circuit Judge Doug Schrantz said the court doesn't keep statistics on which sex is jailed more often for nonpayment of child support.
So, needless to say, these people have no idea of whether men and women are treated alike by child support enforcement authorities or not. They’re just offering the obvious boilerplate denials knowing full well that no one can contradict them. After all, if they don’t have the data, no one does.
Maybe Arkansas is a vastly more enlightened state than is Massachusetts. Three years ago, friend of the National Parents Organization, Terry Brennan, did some hard, painstaking and time-consuming labor demanding and getting child support incarceration data from the sheriffs of every county in the Bay State. And NPO’s Chairman Ned Holstein reported the astonishing results here and here.
Put simply, over 98% of those incarcerated for non-payment of child support in Massachusetts are fathers. Now, that might simply mean that (a) fathers make up the same percentage of non-custodial parents or (b) they’re just a lot worse than are mothers at making their payments.
But neither is borne out by national data. As Holstein reported, Census Bureau data show that non-custodial mothers are significantly less likely to pay any or all of what they owe than are non-custodial fathers. That, together with the rates at which NC fathers vs. NC mothers are ordered to pay support resulted in Holstein’s finding that, in Massachusetts, fathers are eight times more likely to be incarcerated for non-payment than are mothers. In other words, the anti-father sexism there is overwhelming.
Is Arkansas different? I’d love to know. But blanket denials by public officials who admit they have no data on which to base those denials don’t convince me. Interestingly, it may not have convinced the article’s writer either. She ends her piece thus:
In the [Sarah] Blevins case, [Judge} Schrantz opted to give her another chance. Blevins will have to present documentation about her medical condition when she appears back in court Aug. 22.
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