An Exception to the Rule-Reporter Does Fair, Honest Job Reporting on ‘Deadbeat Dads’

Sullivan County, TN–When it comes to reporting on child support and so-called “deadbeat dads,” normally intelligent reporters generally suffer an IQ drop of about 25 points. Whereas they would normally question anything that comes from a government official’s mouth, if the first words are “child support,” their brains shut off. Bristol Herald Courier reporter Michael Owens is an exception. In his recent article about child support and “deadbeat” parents, he makes an honest effort to present both sides of the story, quoting both Mike McCormick of the ACFC and myself. He writes:

Virginia Child Support Enforcement Division statistics show that one in every 11 Virginia children has a parent who refuses to consistently pay. In Tennessee, the state Department of Human Services statistics show that number is one in every 12 children. In Sullivan County, Tenn., roughly $885,000 worth of child support is due each month, notes the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Of that amount, $522,000, or about 59 percent, is paid sporadically or not at all, according to department estimates. (Similar monthly numbers were not available for Virginia counties.) “It”s very frustrating when those parents don”t pay because you know there”s a kid suffering,’ said Michelle Mowery Johnson, spokeswoman for the Tennessee human services department. In Virginia, Stanley owes $33,805 for support of a girl, and Cannon owes $27,066 to a boy and a girl, according to state child support enforcement records. Both men landed on Virginia”s updated list of the top nine offenders in October. The list is as part of a program designed to generate tips on their whereabouts so they can be subpoenaed for court. Being among the top nine doesn”t necessarily mean they are wanted for arrest, only that they have outstanding debts that surpass the child-support norm. However, authorities have issued a warrant for Cannon”s arrest because of his failure to appear in court when ordered. To make the most-wanted list, noncustodial parents must owe at least $8,000, have missed payments for six straight months, and their case must be in the courts. Johnson said Tennessee stopped producing most-wanted lists several years ago. With few tips generated, she said, such posters became little more than a tool “to shame [evaders] into paying.’ National fathers and men”s rights columnist Glenn Sacks also questions the effectiveness of the lists. In a telephone interview, Sacks said the lists only hound into hiding many noncustodial parents who want to pay, but are down on their financial luck. “What happens is they fall behind, they can”t get a modification [reduced payment plan] … and they get an obligation that they can never pay off,’ Sacks said. Michael McCormick, executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, said that in those cases, divorced dads are at a huge disadvantage. “If you”re a husband and you lose your job, nothing happens,’ McCormick said. “But if you”re a noncustodial father and you lose your job, the next thing you know you have a real likelihood of being put in prison’… Not every [parent behind on child support is] a deadbeat parent bent on beating the system, noted Sacks, the columnist and spokesman for men”s rights. Wanted lists “repeatedly’ feature noncustodial parents with low-paying jobs. Virginia”s most recent list includes factory workers, a taxi cab driver, a carnival worker and a car salesman, all people who Sacks suggests might never be able earn enough income to pay their familial debts. “When times are good, you”re working. When times are not, you”re not working,’ he said. Low wages also are a sign of a noncustodial parent who is unable to hire a lawyer savvy enough to convince a judge that dwindling wages should equal lower monthly payments, Sacks said. “It”s too hard to get downward modification in the child support system,’ he said. “With all the hysteria over deadbeat dads, the judges think the guy”s lying or at fault’…

Read the full article here. I suggest readers compliment Owens by emailing him at

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