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.

Two dollars.

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.

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.

Two dollars.

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.

Two dollars.

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.

Two dollars.

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.

Two 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.

Two dollars.

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.

Two dollars.

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?

15 thoughts on “$2.00

  1. Val, i think the entire system is out of control!

    Furthermore, Ithink Its just another way of criminalizing poverty and breaking up and separating the family! Shameful in every way.

    True that there are men with businesses that refuse to contribute to offspring or contribute less than able. BUT, there are not the ones being jailed! The ones being jailed are the poor jobless ones whose exes have mindlessly bought into the systems ‘progrom’

    Ask for jobs and rehab for the men, not prison!

    • I agree, it does criminalize poverty and also sometime ignorance. The rich guys don’t even show up in court, their attorneys do. So they can play the system. But, if you are poor then you get thrown in jail.

  2. I think that judge was frigging crazy to do that. Two damned dollars?! My ex was threatened with jail time but, he was 4 grand in arrears. he has a damned good job and had no other kids to take care of. Also played games like writing the checks to our then 3 year old daughter.How the heck can a judge order someone not to reproduce? I would have left that state too!

  3. The entire justice system is horribly flawed and unjust. And there is no consistency. Had he gotten another judge or perhaps the judge he saw was in a better mood, he would have been able to pay the $2 and go home. And that’s just not right. Judges shouldn’t be able to dole out “justice” based on a whim or how they are feeling that day. That judge was being unreasonable but because he/she has power, he’s able to do whatever he wants without repercussions of any kind. Who is judging the judges I ask. To send that man to jail for several days for being $2 short on child support doesn’t teach him a lesson. It traumatizes him and will forever let him know that the system is unfair, unreasonable and unjust.

    • Honestly, Nicole, I don’t even expect consistency from judges. Many think they are mini-gods and can do whatever they want. And, they don’t even have the wisdom to see when they are doing more harm than good with being so tough on people. This judge turned a good citizen into one who fled from the law. Makes no sense.

  4. While I do believe the child support system to be out of control as well as some of the mothers who depend on the system, I also think it’s necessary. Seriously. I’ve had my arguments in court over monies given directly to my daughter that were constituted as a “gift” to the point where the judge and I ended up in an argument after I commented, “So, it isn’t about supporting the child, it’s all about making sure the courts get their piece of the pie?”

    Putting someone in jail over two dollars is ignorant.

  5. This is a case of a judge using his powers all willy nilly, without any thought or foresight. Urrgh. Terrible. Great, great story Val.

  6. Clearly that judge is a complete asshole. He has no business sitting on the bench. This isn’t an instance of being tough on crime or delinquent dads, this is an instance of abuse of power and allowing the power that he has the change people’s lives to go to his head.

    Sometimes judges (because they’re people like the rest of us) will look at someone and not feel any kind of human connection at all and that will shape their decisions.

    The more I know people, the more I know roaches.

    • I know, right. It was a Friday afternoon and he just decided to go off on someone and my co-worker was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      Funny thing about the justice system is that, like Nicole said, it’s just so arbitrary. One day one sentence, the next a different sentence for the same crime.

      • I believe it was the great Richard Pryor who said “When you go do to the courthouse to see justice, that’s what you see “just us.”

  7. I can’t get over the fact that your former co-worker was sent to jail for two freakin’ dollars. Give me a break! That judge was clearly on a power and ego trip.

    The ones who don’t give a crap about their kids and don’t contribute to their kids’ lives are the ones who need to be punished, not the ones who do want to be involved and who do care.

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