Arizona Mom in Jail for Child Support Debt Speaks Out

March 2, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s been six weeks since Arizona Governor Doug Ducey decided to feather his political nest by kicking the most vulnerable members of society when they’re already down. As I wrote here, Ducey went public with his plan to expose non-custodial parents behind on their child support on social media like Facebook.

Here’s CNN’s report of Ducey’s policy.

Arizona governor Doug Ducey has launched a controversial new initiative to publicly shame suspected "deadbeat dads," tweeting out their names and faces using a social media account operated by a state agency.

During his State of the State address, the Republican on Monday issued a stark warning to the "fathers out there who aren’t meeting their obligations."

"For too long, you’ve been able to remain anonymous," he said, "able to skirt your financial and legal responsibilities with no shame.

Every bully is a coward and Doug Ducey is no exception. It’s no secret that the great majority of parents who haven’t paid what they owe are among the poorest people in the country. The Office of Child Support Enforcement has been reporting for years that very fact. In 2006, it published a report stating that 63% of “deadbeat” parents in fact reported earning less than $10,000 per year. The common story is a lost job or a disability that renders the parent incapable of paying. It also confronts them with the need to hire a lawyer to seek a downward modification of the child support order at the very time they can least afford to do so.

Those are the folks Ducey decided to heap shame on top of indigence. Tough guy. Very impressive.

But now I wonder if Ducey’s disgraceful little act didn’t actually do some good. This article urges me to that conclusion (Fox 10, 2/26/16). I could be wrong, but my antennae tell me that someone at Fox 10 had the same take on Ducey’s announcement that I did and decided to throw it back in his face. Ducey may lack all compassion, but that someone doesn’t. Such, at any rate, is my guess.

Recall that, for Ducey, all “deadbeat” parents are dads. He didn’t get around to mentioning any mothers who might be behind on their support, and I think I know why. It’s one thing to shove around little men, but another altogether to be seen to attack mothers. Doing so would have revealed Ducey’s cowardice for all to see, so, in his speech, he kept his pronouns masculine.

But Fox 10 didn’t. When it decided to put a face to Ducey’s shameful policy, it chose a mother, Sharee DeLeon. And not just any mother, one who’s not afraid to speak out. Unlike so many fathers who seem to have absorbed the message that they’re deadbeats, DeLeon doesn’t think she is. Finally, DeLeon is much like the non-custodial parents the OCSE described back in 2006. She’s poor, and through no fault of her own.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been doing his roundups of so-called dead beat dads and moms for 20 years now. This past year alone the Sheriff’s Office served 8,000 warrants. One of those warrants belonged to a mother in jail who says the Sheriff should not judge these parents until he knows their full story.

"It’s very degrading, it’s very disgusting," said Sharee DeLeon.

"You have no right to judge in my perspective, yeah I might owe that $2,000 but you have no idea what comes behind that," said DeLeon…

"I’ve done nothing wrong, the only crime I’ve committed is to fight for my daughter and my kids and never give up," said DeLeon.

DeLeon has been in a custody battle for one of her children for five years now. She’s had to pay the father child support, and was current until May of 2015. She stopped paying when she lost her job and her home, while still providing for her other two children.

And that, my friends, is how one becomes a “deadbeat” parent. That’s how one ends up in jail and on a Facebook page operated by the State of Arizona designed to shame poor parents more than they already are. And it’s also how one falls so far behind on one’s payments that one can never get out of debt. DeLeon understands completely.

She now owes nearly $10,000 and $2,000 of that is needed to get out of jail. She says once again she has lost her job and the cycle will repeat and once again she will be unable to pay.

That’s why one South Carolina man last summer ran from a police officer who’d pulled him over for a non-functioning taillight. He didn’t want to go back to jail and fall further and further behind on his payments, so he ran. The officer shot him dead.

How will DeLeon get out of debt? She probably won’t. She’s in jail and needs $2,000 she doesn’t have to get out. Meanwhile, her arrears keep building up and up, her child receives nothing from her and the state tacks on interest and fees. If she gets out, she still won’t have a job, so her chances of returning to jail and restarting the cycle are good.

Literally none of that makes sense, but as long as there are politicians like Ducey willing to descend to any depth to curry favor with the voters, it’ll continue.

But maybe, just maybe, that grandstanding at the expense of the weakest members of society will continue to prick the consciences of people who have them and who are in a position to bring to light some of the realities of the child support system.

So kudos to Fox 10 for putting a face to what Ducey would prefer to hide behind a false narrative of uncaring fathers. And kudos to Sharee DeLeon for refusing to be shamed by a shameful governor and a shameful system.

Thanks to Terry for the heads-up.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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