Deadbeat Dads VS Turnips

Sara - posted on 03/23/2011 ( 34 moms have responded )

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So, I heard this interesting story on NPR this morming:

Go to any shelter for homeless families, and you likely will find children who would not be there but for their fathers' failure to pay child support.

Spend a day in family court, and you likely will see indigent fathers, with no lawyer, being taken away in handcuffs because they could not pay the child support they owed.

So-called deadbeat parents, usually dads, have long been a conundrum for the law. On Wednesday, they are the U.S. Supreme Court's legal problem.

Jailed For Being Too Poor?

The justices are hearing a case testing whether indigent parents who fail to make child support payments may be jailed for as much as a year at a time, without the state providing a lawyer. Though most states provide counsel for those too poor to afford legal help, a minority of states do not, including Florida, Georgia, Maine, Ohio and South Carolina.

The case before the justices comes from South Carolina, where Michael Turner, an indigent father, was jailed for a year for failing to pay child support.

He could have gotten out of jail earlier by paying the nearly $6,000 he owed, but with no money and no job, he could not make the payment. He served the full 12 months.

The jail sentence was neither the first nor the last that Turner served for failure to pay. Because the mother of his child received welfare for a period of time, she assigned her right to child support to the state. The case then became subject to automatic enforcement procedures, sending Turner to court whenever he was in arrears.

Michael Turner v. Rebecca Rogers et al.
The Case
Michael Turner of South Carolina was sentenced to one year in jail for failing to pay child support. Because he couldn't afford to pay the nearly $6,000 he owed, he served the entire sentence.


Turner appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled against him, saying he had the ability to secure his release from prison as soon as he paid what he owed.


At Issue
The Sixth Amendment establishes the rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions, stating, among other things, that a defendant has the right to counsel.


In this case, the question before the court is whether a long jail term for civil contempt amounts to criminal punishment.


The Arguments
South Carolina is among a minority of states that don't provide counsel for indigent parents facing prison. Turner argues that because of the possibility of a jail sentence, the state should have provided him with a lawyer. He argues that sending him to jail is a modern form of debtors' prison.


The state and the mother of Turner's child argue that no lawyer is required in cases like these because the proceedings usually turn on simple factual issues of payment history. Also, they argue, introducing lawyers into the proceedings would disadvantage mothers who can't afford a private attorney to help them seek child support payments.

Because he was repeatedly behind in payments, he was repeatedly sent to jail. Indeed, he was in jail again as recently as January.

Since South Carolina is one of those states that does not provide a lawyer for indigent parents facing prison for nonpayment, Turner was on his own in court. The judge, without making a factual finding of Turner's ability to pay, ordered the maximum sentence.

The lawyers who now represent Turner pro bono in the U.S. Supreme Court contend that he was jailed, in effect, for being too poor. They say that in South Carolina and other jurisdictions like it, the system that sends deadbeat dads to jail without a lawyer is a modern form of debtors' prison.

A Mother's Argument

Rebecca Rogers, the mother of Turner's child, and the state of South Carolina maintain that there is no need for a lawyer in these cases, since court proceedings usually turn on simple factual issues of payment history.

The South Carolina Supreme Court agreed, finding that the non-paying parent "hold[s] the keys to his cell" because he can secure his release as soon as he pays.

Rogers says that introducing lawyers into these proceedings would disadvantage mothers who, like her, often cannot afford a private attorney to help them seek the child support payments they are due.

She maintains that fathers often willfully avoid paying even when they can afford it, and points out that during one period of time, Turner bought drugs for himself instead of paying what he owed.

Rogers says that the only threat that has produced any money from Turner is the prospect of jail, noting that on four occasions he paid hundreds of dollars — still far short of the thousands he owes — in an effort to avoid jail.


'Deadbeats And Turnips'

Both sides cite the research of Elaine Sorensen, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and co-author of the article "Deadbeats and Turnips in Child Support Reform."

"Deadbeats," according to Sorensen, are parents who could pay but choose not to. "Turnips" — invoking the phrase, "You can't get blood out of a turnip" — are parents who don't have the money to pay.

So what percentage of non-paying parents are deadbeats and what percentage are turnips? Sorenson says most of those who end up in jail are low-income, and thus, "more likely to be a turnip than a deadbeat."

What's At Stake

The central legal issue in this case is whether and in what circumstances the state may deprive an individual of his liberty without providing him a lawyer.

The Supreme Court has long held that those facing criminal charges, including criminal contempt of court, are entitled to a lawyer. The Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have the right to assistance of counsel.

But deadbeat parents are cited for civil, not criminal, contempt of court. So the question before the court Wednesday will be whether long jail terms for civil contempt amount to criminal punishment.

Turner's ex says "no." She and the state argue that families have an interest in simple, swift and informal procedures so that fathers cannot flout their obligations and leave their children destitute.

Turner and his supporters counter that appearing in this kind of proceeding without a lawyer is like climbing a mountain without legs — it can be done, but not easily.

They point to statistics showing that, in South Carolina, 13 percent of the county jail population consists of non-paying parents held in civil contempt, and 98 percent of them did not have lawyers.

A decision in the case is expected by summer.


So, what do you think? Do think that sending dads who fail to pay child support to jail is just punishing people who are poor or do you think that dads who don't pay child support should go to jail? Thoughts?

MOST HELPFUL POSTS

Janice - posted on 02/28/2013

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I see a lot of really angry moms on here. And I get it there are lots of assholes working under the table and not paying for their kids. But jail is a complete waste of our tax dollars and does nothing to fix the problem.
Honestly, if a you were still with the deadbeat and you were poor you would just go down to DSS and get assistance. But if you are separated from the father and he is poor, he goes to jail and that's somehow acceptable?

There has to be a better system than wasting money on jail, where the deadbeat obviously wont be making any money to pay for his kids. Seriously, tax payers are paying to support the mom and kids AND paying for the dad to sit in jail too. Its just silly.

Instead why not just do a better job of tracking these guys. Someone mentioned ankle bracelets and I think that is a much better idea. How about instead of jail requiring them to go to classes that make them more employable and then tracking what they do. I would rather my taxes go to a few more county/state jobs tracking these guys than jailing them.

And yes there are deadbeat moms too. They get all kinds of assistance and cry poor and yet somehow have a new car, new tattoos, drugs, alcohol, ect. Just the same as the deadbeat dads the only difference is that the children are in their custody.

Yes, its true that there are more honest moms than not and more deadbeat dads than "turnips" but lets not act like the latter of each dont exist.

My own father has always had trouble supporting himself. I honestly believe he has ADD and never got the support he needed as a child/teen (it didnt exist back then) to become a productive part of society. When my parents split my mom could have taken him to court but instead made a deal with him that as long as he stays in our lives (he wanted to, which I know is not the case for many) and bought us necessities whenever he could then that was enough. Now I know that the situation my parents worked out would be impossible for most. I just really felt the need to stand up for the fact that "turnips" really do exist. Really what good would have it done for any of us if he was in jail?

Esther - posted on 03/23/2011

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I do think that everyone who is faced with jail time, civil or criminal, should be entitled to counsel. I'm also not sure I agree with the argument that he has the key to his jail cell in his own hands because all he has to do is pay. If you're locked up, it's kind of hard to make any money. My other issue is that the costs of imprisoning him and going through the court system are much much higher than any amount of money they can ever hope to recover from him. So that doesn't seem to me to be particularly productive. Obviously deadbeat dads (and moms) disgust me and they should totally be held accountable. But I'm thinking there must be a better way. Can't they make these asses work for the state at no pay to work off their debt (the state could then provide the mother & child(ren) with assistance)? Have them clean toilets in the prison until they find a better way to pay their child support or something.

Cecilia - posted on 02/27/2013

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The truth is, most of the time they don't go to jail. They pick and choose who to go after. I know someone who almost went to jail over $500. Luckily he was able to call his mom and have her bring the money to keep him out of jail. He was only a month and a half behind. Where I am owed.. i don't even know any more i know it's more than 8k. my last payment was (no kidding) $2.53 ! I will get some when he files for his taxes. I love that phone call. He is mad every year telling me i stole his money. He's hilarious!

They do try to garnish wages, many work under the table. They will remove license. That doesn't stop some from driving.

Now to the point, should they do these things? From being mad at being owed, i say yes. The logical part of me says no. It's costing how much money to send them to jail? More than they owe in some cases. Taking their license only makes it harder for them to get or keep a job (if they do stop driving).

The truth is what can be done? We can job train them, some will still not get a job. I do like the idea of an ankle bracelet. They should track them to make sure they aren't going to bars, unless they work at one. ( you know we could make up a whole list of unacceptable places to be)

Let them have lawyers. What can that lawyer really say to change a judges mind?

As far as men saying they don't have money to pay... too bad. No one is going to accept that as our answer to why our children don't have their needs met. Oh my kids didn't eat because i can't afford to feed them and pay rent. So would they punish me for being too poor to care for my children. The answer is yes. Sorry but these men can work 2 jobs at fast food and have more than enough to live off of and pay their support. Support is based on their income. I personally have had to work two jobs to take care of my kids. I've also had to ride a bike to get to work ( which was 8 miles away) and be awake at 3am to get on said bike. If i can do it, then so can a grown man.

Charlene - posted on 06/23/2011

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I'm going to be honest with you here. My ex hasn't paid his support in over 3 years, and even before that it was hit and miss. He gets away with it by working "under the table" for his brother's construction company. I have reported him time and again and nothing happens. In a couple weeks I am going to the town he lives and staking him out for a week to find his address and proof that he is there.

I personally think that all of us custodial parents need to petition our governments for stricter laws. How about instead of jailing them, make it so that they have to wear a house arrest anklet until such time as they get caught up with what they owe the children? I personally feel that what these "parents" (and I use that term loosely) are doing is theft, the worst kind. They are stealing from their children. I also think that repeat offenders need to be chemically castrated so that they don't create anymore children to neglect.

It may seem harsh, but they don't stop to think of the damage this type of behavior has on the children involved. My daughter is 15 now, the last time she saw her "sperm donor" was when she was 12, and before that she hadn't seem him since she was 6. It was because he couldn't be bothered. She told me not so long ago that when her father vanished again, that she had considered suicide because "there must be something wrong with me if my own father can't love me."

Jail too harsh? I don't think its harsh enough for people like that.

[deleted account]

My ex has been 'unemployed' for 3 years. According to him when he's in court.... he doesn't have a job. Yet he takes the kids to work w/ him just about every day when they are w/ him.....

Just because they say they don't have a job doesn't make it true. Self-employed, work for cash guys are 'getting away w/' not supporting their kids all the time by simply claiming they are unemployed......

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Kristi - posted on 02/28/2013

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These so called "turnips" are probably so by choice. Like Cecelia said, support is based on income. Most bums work under the table, quit when they start getting garnished, are "self employed," etc. and they all cry poverty. And when nobody is looking...bam! They're out clubbing, sportin new clothes, girlfriend has new bling, then comes a new car, a nicer place to live, new furniture but damn, there's just no money for diapers. Can you imagine what would happen if moms decided to become turnips, too?

Cecilia - posted on 02/27/2013

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Oh and a side note, my sister in PA .. her ex went to jail they are not making him pay arrears during jail time. so he owes less because of jail time.

Nancy - posted on 02/26/2013

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The father of my kids is 62,000 behind and counting.He always had the money for his booze and drugs.When he was put in jail because we finally had a no-nonsense judge,he had no trouble coming up with the money to get out.He has worked and been paid under the table without so much as paying any child support.For the past 20 years he has lived with the same person while still being married to the person he married after me.I wouldn't marry him.They were very careful to keep everything in her name so that nothing could be taken in order to pay his obligation to either me or his wife.He has DUI's as recently as 2007.Every time his wages were attached,he would either quit or get himself fired.He is a grandfather twice over,at least with my kids.I don't know if the wife's son has any kids as she lives in a different state.We are only now starting to get support payments regularly.He looks like a little shriveled up old man from all the years of drinking and drugs,so I know that he's getting disability because last I heard his doctor didn't want him working anymore.So I guess if these fathers can honestly say they can't afford it they need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt they can't.Otherwise they need to be responsible.By the way,my daughter is now having the same problem with my grandsons father.He can buy cars,put a ring on his newest girlfriends finger,buy larger gauges for his ears,new tattoos,get an apartment and cell phones.And he works for circle k.Can't afford to support his kid though.

Geri - posted on 02/14/2013

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My ex disappeared after the first garnishment in 1999.
In 2009 he resurfaced and wanted to exercise his visitation rights.
Being $170,000 in arrears of course IL child support went after him.
He never returned our children and we are still in court continuance after continuance.
He submitted tax documents showing he had no, 0, zip, nada income for 9 years. He also testified that he was an over the road truck driver and owned the company with his new wife.
His wife has a yearly income of $200,000-$300,000 as the bookkeeper for the business, an LLC. and she, according to the tax documents is the sole proprietor. The Missouri Secretary of State official documents show both are co-owners. This is Federal Tax Fraud!
Along with other fraudulent deductions and income shifts. Like business use of a 1680 sq ft home to be 2850 sq ft. EIC on the children all the way back to 2006 on HER injured spouse claim. Family members as independent contractors, no 1099 or W-2's,
Coincidence that the year he asked to visit the kids then kidnapped them, he plead guilty to non support in Missouri but IL and MO do not exchange communication and if I get involve, I am at fault (yes, I got that letter from the child support office that I am not to talk to Missouri).
Since he refuses to allow the children to come back to IL and child support issues do not cross state lines, he made 3 attempts (1 in Missouri and 2 in Illinois) and has now been allowed child support from me greater than that of what he was supposed to pay.
Now IL says I have to pay until the custody is straightened out.
My new attorney knows the complications in this because he is a criminal and the Judge is keeping this in civil court.

Charlene - posted on 06/23/2011

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Yep, my ex had his license suspended three years ago, but if he doesn't get pulled off then its not enforced. He doesn't own anything for them to lien, not even sure if he actually owns a vehicle or if he just borrows his brothers. The point is, though, that there are all these rules in place to make non-custodial parents live up to their responsibilities, but whats the point of having the rules if they aren't enforced. If these dead-beats can just go to ground and work on a cash basis, not file their taxes, or have people covering for them, then what option do we take next??

I think that a person who KNOWS, without a doubt, that they are supposed to be contributing towards the fiscal responsibility of their child and don't, then they aren't deserving of legal representation. They are in breech of contract to the custodial parent, the state, and most importantly to their child. I have no sympathy for that at all. More of the dead-beats should be sitting in jail cells

Faye - posted on 06/23/2011

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KS has a program for new welfare particapants that they have to be in this training program for 30 hours or more a week.



The program will train you on how to fill out a resume`, how to dress for the interview, and help with the job search. They have to have so many job leads each day. If they are successful in getting a job during the 6 week program, GREAT! If not, they continue until they do get a job.



I hope this program works for all who take advantage of it and use this training program.



If all unemployed would be required by the state to take such a program before they receive their unemployed benifits I think there would be less on unemployment or welfare.



I also think that the courts need to start REQUIRING deadbeats to have a job, period. If the courts would check each quarter (send a letter to last employer on file to verify) and find out the deadbeat is gone from there, JAIL his arse!



Each time my ex changes jobs, I contact my case worker with his new job info and house address if that has changed.

Stifler's - posted on 03/24/2011

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What's stopping these people from getting a job? Jesus fucking Christ. Sneding them to gaol just gives them more of an excuse to not work, "I've been in gaol no one will employ me... that's my story and I'm sticking to it".

Sarah - posted on 03/24/2011

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Well, I agree with both....If there is a dead beat dad that isn't paying his CS all b/c he doesn't care and he's not trying to find a job or is just being irresponsible, then yeah, send his sorry butt to jail...but if you are a father who doesn't have custody and have been ordered to pay CS, but you cannot find a job and are actually trying your hardest to come up w/the money, then no, jail isn't the right thing. There should be some kind of program to help these dads pay their CS if they don't have the means to. I also think it all depends on the situation.

[deleted account]

Fair enough Teresa. I'm in Australia and it seems it may be harder for them to do that here because even if they don't work they receive government paymenst and even if my ex did that i would be entitled to some out of it.
Cash in hand is illegal in Aus and if he didn't pay child support but was receiving money i don't know what i would do except dob him in to the tax office.

[deleted account]

If they don't have a job then no i don't think they should go to jail. How can they pay if they have nothing.
But if they have a job and don't pay then send the arseholes to jail.

Jenn - posted on 03/23/2011

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Well, here the way it works is, your child support payments reflect your income. It's a charted amount that you pay based on what you make, but it can go higher or lower if there are extenuating circumstances (not sure how often that happens though). If you're income is at a poverty level (make a very low income or are on welfare or disability), then you would not be ordered to pay anything. However, you can't just choose to be a lazy turd and get out of paying. You are also required to submit forms that outline what your bills are and if you're showing very little income but have big bills, the judge is going to wonder how you're paying your bills, and let's say you lose a job, you would be expected to find another one. If you are working though and your income drops, all you have to do is go back to court to have your payments adjusted to reflect your new income - it's a pretty easy thing to do that doesn't require a lawyer, but you can use duty counsel if you want (or your own lawyer obviously). So anyway, my point after all that, is that I do think it's a good last resort effort to get the message across to the deadbeat parent, given that they ARE capable of making the payments, but just have not been paying or they should have had their payments lowered but couldn't be bothered to follow through with the system to make the needed changes.

[deleted account]

If you don't work and your not homeless, you can claim from social welfare,and a small sum from that payment you recieve will go to child support automatically.In Ireland anyway.You can sort it together as the parents or for many there taken to court by the ex to issue the father to pay a small amount from his claim.They get free legal aid here to.

Medic - posted on 03/23/2011

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In Texas even if you don't work you still owe 250 a month. That is the min amount per month for one child. Its 20% of your income or 250 which ever one is higher. My ex owes me 10000 in back child support for my 4 year old and that didn't even start until he was 18 months old. He signed his rights over and is still being threatened with jail time because its money my SON is owed. They have taken his tax return this year but even though there are no more monthly payments to add there is still interest that accumulates.

Sara - posted on 03/23/2011

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Accomplish what? Paying? I think that if they sincerely don't have any income, then they need to go through the appropriate channels with the court to make them aware of their unemployed status. They'll make an allowance for that.

Sara - posted on 03/23/2011

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Exactly! The way it stands now it's like they can't be bothered..which begs the question, how big of a deterrent is going to jail really?



Plus, if you think about how overburdened and expensive our correctional system is, does it really make sense to add to the prison population by sending people who don't pay child support? There's got to be a better way.

Lady Heather - posted on 03/23/2011

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That's the thing - they at least should go through the proper channels. They shouldn't just try and hide and make it go away. I think most people can understand a loss of employment or something. That's pretty common these days. But be honest about it!

Dana - posted on 03/23/2011

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Exactly, Sara. That was my point before. You can always go and report that your pay has changed or that you've lost your job. They will reconfigure everything then. If there's no money (no job), you're not expected to pay.

Sara - posted on 03/23/2011

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But, the poor are also responsible to their children. They can always go back to court and get the amount they pay changed. They can make payment arrangements with the courts as well.

Katherine - posted on 03/23/2011

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I think it's punishing people who are poor. I mean if the father has no income what do they expect him to do???
Maybe they should be helping these dads find employment instead of filling up the jails with pointless charges.
I think it should be case by case based. If the dad is owing back child support for 6,000 did he have a job at one point and fail to pay? Or was he jobless the entire time? If he wasn't jobless the entire time and made an effort to pay, then I don't think he should be locked up, just my opinion.

Sara - posted on 03/23/2011

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Yeah, my oh-so-excellent BIL does construction and gets paid under the table. He doesn't pay child support for his FOUR children. However, he always has enough money for beer and cigarettes. Makes me sick.

Dana - posted on 03/23/2011

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Or how many of them have a job that's off the record. You can be sure, they're getting money somewhere.

Rosie - posted on 03/23/2011

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IMO, they need to go to jail if they don't have a job. if they have a job, they need to be taking a little something automatically from their checks. maybe not huge amounts, but something FFS.
my ex hasn't worked for more than 2 weeks for 10 years. yep, 10 fucking years. the very last days of august i started receiving child support from him and it's kept up biweekly since then. i think he should've been put in jail YEARS ago. if they are actually faced with jailtime, they might actually try to get a job.

[deleted account]

If they are making no monthly attempt at paying ANYTHING? Yes.

Other than that I'm not entirely sure.

Dana - posted on 03/23/2011

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I definitely think that they all should be provided with counsel. But, if you don't have a job, you can go and report that you have no income, right?



I could almost feel bad for the man who owes $6,000 but, that's accumulated over time. It's not like all of a sudden he owes that.

Sara - posted on 03/23/2011

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The deadbeat dads I'm aware of have the capacity to pay, they just don't. In that case, sending them to jail I think is the right thing to do. However, the dad's that can't pay simply because they can't afford to, how is putting them in jail going to help them to support their children?

Lady Heather - posted on 03/23/2011

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I guess they'd have to examine the situation thoroughly. I'm sure there are some dads out there who have fallen on hard times and really have nothing to pay. Then there are the ones who worked for my old company. I did payroll there and we used to get request for wage garnishment all the time. If you are making $70-80 grand a year and can't pay your child support then you just plain have to rearrange your life so that you can. I once got an employment verification from a car dealer for this one guy (he even called to make sure I filled it out so he could get his new truck right away) and then just a few weeks later I get this out-of-province wage garnishment thing. No one even knew he had kids. His ex had been tracking him down for years. wtf is that? Would I have a problem with that guy going to jail? Hell no. And I sure took pleasure in waking him up after his night shift to let him know that we were now deducting 30% of his pay.

Really though, does it make sense to send them to jail? Unless they have assets that can be liquidated for child support, all that does is make them REALLY unable to pay.

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