“The overwhelming majority of these parents are not deadbeat, they are dead broke… even during the recession… child support enforcement agencies are very, very slow to give fathers and mothers… downward modifications. So, you have people who are forced to pay child support on an income that they haven’t earned in a year…”—F & F’s Glenn Sacks, on CNN Newsroom
Fathers and Families Executive Director Glenn Sacks squared off against a leading child support enforcement official on CNN Newsroom on Friday, May 27. To watch the debate, click here.
The debate, which pitted DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James and attorney Lisa Bloom against Sacks, concerned new DeKalb measures to deprive so-called “deadbeat dads” of use of their automobiles. Fathers and Families believes that all parents should support their children both emotionally and financially, but believes that most repressive measures against so-called “deadbeat dads” are either unfair or counterproductive.
DREW GRIFFIN (CNN Host): States around the country have tried any number of creative ways to get parents who are behind in child support to pay up. Illinois, for example, puts up this website which shows the worst offenders. Other states seize tax refunds, report it to the credit bureau, or refuse hunting or fishing licenses.
But some of these enforcement laws affect the way parents get around. Some states are revoking car tags, impounding cars, or requesting that the U.S. State Department deny or suspend that parent’s passport. So, while no one can deny the importance of obtaining child support payments, could some of these measures have an unintended negative effect?…
District Attorney, let me begin with you. Your county is about to target late parents by having them lose their tags. Why have is you come up with this idea?
ROBERT JAMES, DEKALB COUNTY, GA, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, we have a very serious problem, not just in DeKalb County, but throughout the state of Georgia and, frankly, throughout the nation. And that problem is parents not paying child support. If you look at the facts, we’re not dealing with parents that are just a few days late.
In our instance, we are dealing with parents who haven’t paid in as long as two years to never. And it’s time for that to stop and it’s time for parents to support their children.
GRIFFIN: So, this is a last resort for those truly, truly dead beats. Let’s try to hit them at the car?
JAMES: This is absolutely a last resort. We have gone through amnesty days. We’ve gone through hauling these people into court. We’ve gone through calling their homes, bringing them down, trying to set up payment plans, and they just absolutely will not pay. And children need support.
GRIFFIN: Glenn, is that a good idea to go after their cars?
GLENN SACKS, FATHERS & FAMILIES: Well, I agree with Robert–let’s look at the facts. The facts are very clear. The overwhelming majority of these parents are not deadbeat, they are dead broke. The federal government’s own research shows before the recession over 2/3 of the people behind on the child support earned poverty-level wages. That’s before the recession.
During the recession, it’s gotten far worse because courts and the child support enforcement agencies are very, very slow to give fathers and mothers who are behind on their child support downward modification.
So, you have people who are forced to pay child support on an income that they haven’t earned in a year, and when they can’t afford it, then they get to be called deadbeats and publicly humiliated by programs like this.
And a program like this even for the people that, you know, they are trying their best, perhaps trying to work, trying to get jobs, whatever, you are taking away their transportation, making it even harder for them…
GRIFFIN: Lisa, I can’t believe that the people that the district attorney are going after are trying their best, but I want to ask you if you think that this is the right route, because potentially, you take away somebody’s job. I mean, you take away somebody’s car, you could take away their way to get to a job. So, they might pay in the future. What’s your thought on this?
LISA BLOOM, ATTORNEY: That’s right. Look, children need love and support and attention, but they also need money. Children need shoes and food and tuition, and so child support is very important. I support wage garnishments. I support tax liens. But I don’t support this particular proposal, because it doesn’t make sense to make it more difficult for a parent to get to work, and in most places in this country, you need a car to get to work.
We need to help them to get to work and help them earn an income and garnish the wages, pay them directly to the other parent. It seems to me that’s a much more effective way of supporting their kids.
GRIFFIN: Mr. District Attorney, can you just — without naming a name, give me an idea of the person you are going after and whether or not he fits into this category of somebody he’s just really trying to find a job or get work, but he just can’t because of the circumstances?
JAMES: Certainly. We have one parent in particular that is $104,000 behind, and that parent has never paid child support. We have offered that parent amnesty on three different — during three different years. We have made phone calls. We have tried to work things out. We have hauled that parent into court. He is
GRIFFIN: And does that parent have the ability to pay?
JAMES: Yes. Yet that parent can pay for gas in their car, which at this point unfortunately, if you have a SUV, it’s up to $100…In Georgia, we have an extremely expensive ad valorem tax, that person can renew their tag and pay a lot of money. That person can do everything that they need. But when it comes to supporting the needs for their child, they refuse to do so.
And, frankly, you know, if you’re not using the money from the employment to pay for your child, then I don’t have an issue with perhaps interrupting or compromising that employment.
GRIFFIN: Glenn, let me just ask you, you can say what you want, but, hey, man, take a bus, pay up for your kid.
SACKS: The fact is that these guys can scrounge together money to fill their gas tanks doesn’t mean that they have money, enough money to pay whatever the child support order is.
I’d ask this gentleman–he says he has a most wanted deadbeat parent list. I’ve been looking at those lists all over the country, the states and counties doing for years and years. You never find anybody on the list who’s got a decent job. They are day laborers, construction workers, cashiers, roofers, who owe these fantastic sums of money and we are supposed to believe are these wealthy guys who ran out on the kids and now have the trophy wife and the Porsche…
GRIFFIN: Well, wait a minute now. Wait a minute. They are plenty day laborers, roofers who are supporting their families, sir. I don’t think that just because you are poor doesn’t mean you cannot support the family.
SACKS: Often the orders are set too high…
To learn more about the new DeKalb County child support measures, see DeKalb puts brakes on car tags for deadbeats (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/26/11).
Fathers and Families has brought an enormous amount of media attention to the plight of low-income child support obligors over the past several years. To learn more about this issue, please see:
- Our column Layoffs, courts put some dads in jail (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/21/09)
- The national Associated Press story More parents seek child-support reduction (8/27/09), which featured several F & F members and leaders.
Jeremy Lavine, one of the F & F members featured in the AP story, is an excellent example of the child support abuses we criticize. Lavine worked in the Real Estate industry and had a $1,100 a month child support obligation based on a $4,500 a month income. Like so many in the Real Estate industry, his income evaporated, and he had to work repairing jet skis for about $1,500 a month. Yet the Florida Department of Children and Families told him his industry was going to bounce back and refused to give him a modification. The kicker? Lavine’s kids live with him 50% of the time.