deadbeat dad off scott free?
April 28, 2006 6:40 AM   Subscribe

What are the legal repercussions for a deadbeat father not paying his child support?

Someone I know is the father of 4 children. He has two kids, one of which is older than 18, in another state (Georgia), and another set of two kids in this state (West Virginia), which is also where he resides.

This gentleman, to use a term loosely, hasn't been working at a "real" job for quite some time, but has been working a series of "off the books" jobs. In this time, he has accrued a large amount of money owed in back child support. I can not swear to the amount, but I have heard the figure $25,000 spoken by someone he was close to.

Last month he was arrested and went to court. He was sentenced him to 14 days in the local jail. Upon getting out of jail, he has said that he can't be sent back to jail. I have also heard that he has only made shallow attempts to pick up a job that would pay him on the books, and managed to pick up another "off the books" arrangement.

While I find this behavior morally reprehensible, I have no desire to be proactive in any way what-so-ever in this situation. I'm sure there's someone I could call about his "off the books" work, but I'm not trying to be malicious to his already messed up existence.

I am asking this question because I am curious if he is correct in the notion that he isn't in any further danger of being sent back to jail and if that is incorrect, some kind of idea what is in store for him. Maybe I'm naive, but I can't imagine that the system in place to ensure that child support gets paid could be so lax in a case like this.

Oh, and another thing I've heard a lot is that, when he was working, and they decided what his child support amount would be, he was making a decent living which set the bar high. At some point in the meantime, he failed a drug test and it seems that the work has dried up for him. It has been stated that "it's a waste of his time" to get any job that pays because they would take so much of his check each month that he'd be left working for pennies on the dollar. Again, maybe I'm still naive, but isn't there some sort of system in place for situations like this? Aren't the authorities aware that peoples working situations can change, and will reflect that in the amount they determine a parent should pay in a child support situation?
posted by jcruden to Law & Government (22 answers total)
In short, I'm sure he can go back to jail for this. Judges are unlikely to do this, however, because if he's in jail he's not making money to pay for the kids.

Also, yes, the authorities are aware of people hitting hard times. But $25k isn't just hard times, it's a willful disregard for an obligation. They are not very likely to be sympathetic to that.
posted by MrZero at 6:52 AM on April 28, 2006

Yeah, he's (surprise) full of crap. Many states have limitations on how much garnishing will be done from a paycheck above and beyond the 50/60 limit set by Federal law. He'll still have back payments but you can't get blood from a stone.
posted by phearlez at 6:53 AM on April 28, 2006

If he got a lawyer and made a legal request for amendment, they'd look at his situation, but most states have minimums by age that they automatically assign unless the parents make other arrangements. The court's attitude tends to be that one needs to get sufficiently employed to cover the payment, rather than allowing the payment to come down to one's employment. (This keeps people from, say, working off the books most of the time, making 1000 dollars a year, from paying 5 bucks a week in child support.)

He's wrong about jail, however- they can't send him back to jail for that particular $25,000 dollars, but they can send him for $25,001, $22,000, etc., etc., etc.. As long as the arrears build, they can continue to jail him for each new amount he's failed to pay. Furthermore, incerceration is not insulation against payment- arrears will continue to build while he's in jail.

Other consequences- his state and federal tax returns (if he has any) can be seized to pay his arrearage, his arrearage is listed in big, bold letters on his credit report, so he'll be unable to get a new car, a new home, any kind of loan- basically, anything that requires a credit check, and in some states, being in arrears on child support makes you ineligible for many government benefits.

In short, until he pays off that $25,000, he's fucked. And will continue to be fucked for the rest of his life. Child support arrearage cannot be cancelled by bankruptcy, and it's not a debt that can be "escaped" by a statute of limitations. It exists forever, until repaid.
posted by headspace at 6:55 AM on April 28, 2006

Couldn't he also get hit for tax evasion?
posted by solotoro at 7:00 AM on April 28, 2006

can send him for $25,001, $22,000, - er, I mean $27,000- continuing upward amounts. Sorry!
posted by headspace at 7:17 AM on April 28, 2006

In some states he can have his driver's license suspended for non-payment of child support.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:22 AM on April 28, 2006

Thank you, headspace. That really helped clarify how these things works.

What really sucks about this situation is that I'm 95% sure these kids are never going to see any of this money. Unless some family member bails this guy out big time, he's going to sneak around and avoid doing what's right.
posted by jcruden at 7:25 AM on April 28, 2006

The U.S. does not have debtor's prison or indentured servitude (yet, give it a few years). So debts, of themselves, are not imprisonment offenses. However, child support is an exception: yes, you can be imprisoned for failure to pay child support.

There is a national database that will ensure that any "real job" he gets deducts money from his salary for child support. Which is why he's not interested in getting a real job. Indeed, he can't really - the working relationship will be immediately poisoned when the employer finds out his new hire is seriously indebted. So the new hire database has the effect of making it quite difficult for people owning back child support to actually get and keep a good-paying job.

Sure, he could go to court and try to convince the judge the child support should be reduced. Using money he doesn't have to pay a lawyer he doesn't have, and talking to a judge that is highly likely to be unsympathetic.

So what the hell is your question, anyway? How can you get money from someone who doesn't have any money? You can't. You want to beat it out of him? Kneecap him? Imprison him? Do you think it might be hard to hold down a 9-5 job from a prison cell, so imprisonment might actually reduce his ability to pay?

Let's suppose he gets a $1000/week real job. $52,000/year, that's not bad, eh? Let's see where it goes. Off the top, about 40% to taxes. So now he's down to $600/week. Then 65% to child support. So now he has a grand total of $210/week to pay for his rent, food, clothing, entertainment, and so forth. If he lives in a flophouse of some sort and eats only boiled rice and gets clothes from Goodwill, he might be able to live on that. Hopefully there's no commute to that job, because he sure can't afford gas and auto insurance. So is it a waste of his time to get a "real job"? If he can find something off the books paying $300/week, he's living better than he would with a "real job", so yes.
posted by jellicle at 7:25 AM on April 28, 2006

He can also have his passport taken, if he has one; thus eliminating the option of escaping the country.
posted by zia at 7:26 AM on April 28, 2006

Calm down, jellicle.

I asked this out of curiosity.

I feel that I'm entitled to say that I find this situation morally reprehensible, but I'm not braying for blood.

All I knew prior to asking this on metafilter was what I had heard and I wanted to know more about what's really happening in a situation like this, and how that situation is resolved, from a legal stand point.

And, honestly, I completely disagree with your sentiment here. There must be thousands upon thousands of people paying their child support each month, and I seriously doubt each and every one is doomed to squalor because they're legally required to support the consequences of their own actions.

Really, who should be paying for these kids? Passers by on the street? Put them to work themselves?
posted by jcruden at 7:35 AM on April 28, 2006

Am I reading any of this correctly headspace? I'm 42 and my father, who I just recently found and never paid a single dime of support, could be liable? Woah.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:16 AM on April 28, 2006

Of the manager types I've met, discovering that a new hire is trying to use his skills to meet child-support obligations (or, as in this case, catch up on child-support obligations) isn't any kind of blemish. Having kids to support isn't inherently off-putting.

(Now, that said, my father didn't keep up with his child-support obligations, and, at the time, the flop house seemed like a couple of rungs too good for him...)
posted by Yeomans at 8:23 AM on April 28, 2006

jellicle, get serious. Many, many people live on that amount quite comfortably without resorting to flop houses and used clothes. My roommate and I both make about $200/week post tax. We don't shop at goodwill and the last time either of us ate "boiled rice" for dinner it was topped with chicken curry. I don't know what your financial situation is, but believe me, there are many many people making $20,000 a year or less and surviving. Shoot, I know people making that much, living in decent apartments, going out on occasion, AND keeping up with their child support payments!

I can't feel much sympathy for someone whose neglected his kids to the tune of $25,000. So he can't eat in fancy restaurants and might have to buy store brand instead of brand name. Yeah, he might even have to suck it up, sell his car, and switch to public transportation. No one's fault but his own. I can't feel sorry for someone who doesn't get to have a nice car and fancy house because he's forced to pay for his children. They're his kids. The sob story of the deadbeat dad isn't going to bring a tear to my eye.

And yeah, I'm biased. This is speaking as someone who watched their mom work three jobs to support two kids because daddy worked off the books and just couldn't possibly afford to pay support and maintain his standard of living. And no child should ever realize, years later, what it really means when their mother says "no, kids, you eat. I had something at work" night after night.

But, this will come back to him, even if it isn't financially or legally. I haven't seen my father since I was twelve, when he completely disappeared from our lives. In that time he's missed a whole life with me, my sister, and our brothers from his first marriage. Watching his kids graduate, seeing them get married, meeting his grandchildren, all that stuff. Not getting a car loan is one thing, knowing you have grandchildren you will never see seems so much worse in my mind.
But, I suppose, to someone who can't even be bothered to take care of his own kids, he might not even care.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:26 AM on April 28, 2006

Am I reading any of this correctly headspace? I'm 42 and my father, who I just recently found and never paid a single dime of support, could be liable? Woah.

In theory, yes- if there were a judgment of support against him, and he never paid it, then he would still be liable for back support payments to your mother. But because it happened so long ago, the laws could have been different when your parents divorced. Child support may not have been a formalized system in your state at the time, and I'm not sure how grandfathering would work if the arrearage occurred before newer, tougher laws enforcing support payments were passed. Before 1990, minimum formulae were only used to figure out how to reimburse the state for public assistance made to a custodial parent. Federal child support guidelines were only instituted in 1984.

jcruden- and on that note, I remembered another- if his ex-wives are on public assistance, in some states, he can be liable for repaying some of those subsidies that were made while he was in arrears (the theory being that they wouldn't have been on public assistance if his payments were current.) He wouldn't be responsible for any public assistance made while he was current, however.
posted by headspace at 9:23 AM on April 28, 2006

Kevinskomvold: A friend of my family, whose ex had never made his child support payments, and whose son is around 30 years old recently began receiving child support checks. She called to find out what was going on. Apparently, the ex had begun to collect social security and the checks were being garnished automatically.
posted by leapingsheep at 9:51 AM on April 28, 2006

Another point: Child support is based on your earning capacity, not on what you actually earn. If you have the skills and ability to earn 50k a year, that's what the amount will be based on. If you choose not to work, well... too bad. You still owe based on what you should be earning.
posted by muddylemon at 10:00 AM on April 28, 2006

There's lots of things that could happen, but sadly, it's unlikely that diddly squat will get done. I have a good friend that's been battling the child support system for years. Her ex just decided that he wanted to live the partying hipster lifestyle and took off, leaving her the kid. They've garnished wages, etc, but he just keeps finding these under-the-table jobs. He has still purchased cars (used cars, anyone?) and is living it up. The County clerks are painfully slow to react whenever my friend gives them information about him when she finds out he's working. By that time, he's moved on to something else. This same guy got in a car accident and got a fairly large settlement out of it. Guess what? She didn't see a dime. He bought his girlfriend a new car and some stereo equipment.

The guy you're referring to could also very easily petition the court to lower the child support based on his current income. Same thing happened to my friend. Deadbeat found that by telling the court he was unskilled and unemployable, they would lower the burden on him. So now if his checks get garnished again, it'll be for a far lower amount.

The system here sucks.
posted by drstein at 10:29 AM on April 28, 2006

one point - one can petition the court to have child support payments reduced, but at least in my state, this is not retroactive ... he's still going to owe the $25,000

also, i read in the paper all the time of people who have been evading payment on similar amounts or more ... they are arrested and sentenced to 2 years of probation ... guess what part of that probation is and guess what happens if he doesn't follow through on it?

people HAVE gone to prison when they're behind that much

by the way, i make around 28,000 a year, pay child support and live on 280 a week ... it's doable ... my sympathy for someone making 50,000 is pretty limited
posted by pyramid termite at 11:21 AM on April 28, 2006

Another point: Child support is based on your earning capacity, not on what you actually earn.

Well, more accurately it CAN be based on your capacity. A early 90s case established that the intent of the 50/60 limits was not to only pay what one chose to earn but what one reasonably could.

However I think that case established the outer boundaries that can be demanded, not the gold standard for what's assessed. It's not in anyone's interest to bleed the child support payer.
posted by phearlez at 12:54 PM on April 28, 2006

I started this hours ago but stupid work got in the way... I hope I'm not being too redundant.

I worked as the paralegal to a special prosecutor assigned during a "get tough on deadbeat parents" campaign for a certain nameless county in a certain nameless state several years ago. The following is based on my experiences and observations during that time.

1. S/he's unlikely to go to prison for any non-trivial amount of time if there is even an slight possibility that s/he is able to hold down a job. It is considered counterproductive to the whole making money enterprise which is essential to supporting one's children.

2. It seems a poor compromise, but many non-supportive parents are willing to take a substantial reduction in living standard out of spite. I knew of several cases where an executive or union scale trade worker purposefully reduced themselves to waitstaff or retail stocking positions. Often this is done in some poorly conceived attempt to reduce the support payments—payments are set based on earnings potential, not on actual earnings. These sorts of positions also lend themselves to making unreported income or being paid under the table as your acquaintence is demonstrating. This behavior is intuitively is wrong and calls for punishment, but there is no feasible way to legislate this. However, as the arrears increase so does the likelihood that the DA will throw in the towel and set out to make an example of the person. Sad to say, this level seems arbitrary and is seldom reached. You'd be lucky to see one or two such prosecutions in any given state in a year.

3. The next rung down the ladder are those who game the system for SSI payments for some imagined disability. SSI payments cannot be garnished. It's a meager living, but some parents seem to derive a lot of satisfaction from this which seems to compensate them in other ways. Unfortunately these people are more or less untouchable.

4. The main stick the State or custodial parent has is the non-supportive parent's desire to remain a member of the community in good standing. If a person is willing to live on the margins they can game the system enough to avoid most of the truly unpleasant concequences of non-support (felony convictions and prison time). The consequences they do face are basically a poor standard of living, no credit rating, running afoul of the IRS (if they are not reporting income), and horrible karma.

5. This person cannot be jailed again for the $25,000, but any additional arrears are jailable. The previous conviction is a huge aggrevating circumstance and if your acquaintence is convicted again, s/he will not get of so lightly. Again, this would only happen in the event that the DA decides to make an example of this case.

6. In the event this person decides to "get right" there are certain protections as to the amount that can be garnished. S/he won't be living in pudding, but neither will s/he be reduced to abject poverty. Again, the idea is to recoup some money from the non-supportive parent. Which brings me to #7

7. Often state assistance to the custodial parent is contingent on establishing paternity and getting a court order for support payment. The state then acts as the payor for the non-supportive parent (although the amount the state pays seldom equals the ordered payment amount). Any arrears collected via judgement will first go against what is owed to the state before additional money is paid to the custodial parent. This is not hard/fast and gets worked out in court. Regardless, if your acquaintence's custodial parents are receiving state aid, at least some of this debt is owed to the state. This is important in that, once the children have reached whatever the state deems maturity, it is no longer necessarily in the state's interest to bend over backwards in hopes s/he will eventually see the light and get a job.

8. This fits in somewhere above, but I've already gone too long to figure out where. Yes, there is a way to petition the court to make changes to the support order if some material event has impacted the non-custodial parent's ability to pay. Failing a drug test probably isn't going to cut it. Nor is sandbagging. Again, the payments are set on perceived earning potential. If you're a qualified brain surgeon, you're going to have to pay at some level regardless of whether you decide your time is better served taking tickets at the local cinema.

To reiterate, I am not a lawyer. I was a paralegal. I was not your paralegal. The above is based on personal observation. It is necessarily biased toward how a particular county in a particular state operated at the time, approximately seven years ago. Finally, if you can provide anything resembling non-hersay evidance as to the individual flaunting income reporting requirements, I implore you to go forward with this information. It is entirely possible that nothing will come of it, but IMO a lot less pointless optimism and a lot more deterrance-oriented prosecution is the solution to this problem. Felony non-support + tax evasion is a lot more attractive to a DA than felony non-support.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:49 PM on April 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

5. This person cannot be jailed again for the $25,000, but any additional arrears are jailable.

that would depend on whether he was jailed for criminal non-support (or whatever it's called in your state), or simple contempt of court ... in other words, he might not have been jailed for the $25,000, but for not complying with a court order ... when released, he may be put under a new court order and if he doesn't comply, it's contempt of court again

i know of people who've been jailed repeatedly over this ... and it's usually to get them to comply with a court order, not because they've been charged with a specific crime
posted by pyramid termite at 10:04 PM on April 28, 2006

True, I was making an (unwarranted?) assumption. OTOH, contempt lockups were of the weekend-visit variety in my experience whereas the subject of the post experienced a two week vacation. If it was a contempt charge then you are correct and the $25,000 balance is still fair game from a prosecutorial perspective.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:52 AM on April 29, 2006

« Older How can I get a free shot on Factiva / Lexis Nexis...   |   Where can I find this Mayor Frank Rizzo quote? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.