There is a story in the news about a guy in Ohio who is $97,000 in arrears on his child support payments. The judge in the case sentenced him to some time in jail and then as a condition of his probation said he cannot have anymore children. And if he does he will be put back in jail.
That got me thinking about something that happened to a former co-worker.
This was several years ago when I was living in the South. On a Friday afternoon one of my co-workers, a seemingly decent guy, had to go to court because he was behind on his child support payments. Not a lot mind you, less than $100 behind.
So he leaves work saying he’d be back in a couple of hours. But, he didn’t come back that day, nor the following Monday, nor any day after.
Here’s what later I found out happened to him.
He goes to court and waits to be called to appear before the judge. When he’s called he’s told the amount he owes. In that moment he realizes that he is actually about two dollars short because he miscalculated a bit.
So the judge says since he didn’t have the full amount he was going to put him in jail until he could come up with the two dollars. Upon hearing that, several people in the courtroom’s gallery stood to offer up the two dollars.
But, the judge refused to allow my co-worker to accept the money from anyone and sent him to jail. And since it was a Friday afternoon, he had to spend the entire weekend in jail.
On Monday he calls his friend, another co-worker of mine, to come to the court to give him the two dollars he needed to satisfy his debt. The co-worker does this.
So, both head off in their cars after he’s released from jail. The second co-worker comes into work. The one who had been in jail never shows up for work. And, he didn’t show up the next day or the next or ever.
Later I learn from his friend at work that he left not only town but the State. He said that he had never been in jail before and just couldn’t risk being jailed again for being short a couple of dollars.
He ended up in the Midwest somewhere. Hundreds of miles away from his child. He sent money directly to his daughter rather than sending it through the courts.
So, over being two bucks short, this guy was sent to jail and then was so frightened by the experience that he blew town, leaving his daughter, whom he had until then saw on an almost daily basis, behind.
By the time I left that job he had been gone for about a year. And although he spoke to his child on the phone, he had not seen her in person in all that time.
I’m not sure what the answer is to making sure parents support their kids but, putting people who are otherwise good citizens in jail for small amounts of money being owed seems like a pretty bad solution.
I know this situation this might not be representative of what normally goes on in child support court but I’m pretty sure this kind of unreasonableness happens more than we think.
Do you think jailing parents who owe child support is productive?
Is the whole court ordered child support system out of control?
Do you think it’s okay for a judge to order someone not to have more children?