In a piece that appeared on the Fathers and Families blog last week entitled Unemployment, Phantom Earnings and Inflated Child Support Liabilities, Terry Kee of Fathers and Families Ohio told the story of Julius McIntyre–an underemployed father who was brought before a judge earlier this month facing a sentence of 15 days in jail for owing roughly $20,000 in back child support.
On the day of his court appearance, McIntyre had been working in a Wal-mart distribution center for about two weeks, but had previously been unable to find a job for more than a year, and was having trouble paying his child support obligations.
The judge in the case, Franklin County, Ohio Judge Dana Preisse, elected not to put McIntyre in jail, recognizing that the current jobs crisis is making it harder for some support obligors to find work. As her decision saved McIntyre’s job, at least temporarily stopped the increased accumulation of McIntyre’s child support arrearages, and provided more support dollars for his children, Terry Kee was thankful to Judge Preisse for taking the time to consider the bigger picture instead of simply labeling McIntyre as a deadbeat dad who needed to be punished.
In fact, Kee was so impressed with the actions of Judge Preisse, he has since presented her with the following letter of appreciation on behalf of the Fathers and Families of Ohio Executive Committee:
December 14, 2010
Judge Dana S. Preisse
On behalf of Fathers and Families of Ohio, I would like to commend you for your recent decision not to incarcerate Julius McIntyre–an underemployed man who recently came before you owing roughly $20,000 in back child support.
This one decision spared McIntyre 15 days in jail, saved his job and, in the end, provided more support dollars for the benefit of the child concerned. In effect, your ruling created a win–win situation: the State of Ohio did not have to bear the expense of his incarceration; Mr. McIntyre”s support obligation did not increase; and, as noted, the custodial parent stands to receive more support dollars.
I do not wish to imply that the decision was easy. I am sure it was not. The letter of the law seeks incarceration, and according to a story reported by WOSU radio in Columbus earlier this month, the attorney for the Child Support Enforcement agency, “adamantly pushed for jail time.’ The WOSU story indicated that in your ruling you noted the fact that McIntyre is working, going to back to school, and struggling to support his other children on income from “the first full-time job he”s had in more than a year.’
Your action demonstrates the important judgmental distinction between dads like Mr. McIntyre who are “dead broke’ and those who are “deadbeats’–an important distinction that can be tricky to make and one which requires significantly more time, effort, and personalized attention to adjudicate. Too many judges treat the majority of down-on-their-luck support obligors as simple statistics, or worse, write them off as “deadbeats’ without due consideration and will not take the time or effort to really do what is best in each individual situation.
I realize that many family court judges like yourself have tremendously full dockets, but your consideration and candor in this case have not gone unappreciated. Thank you again.
Fathers and Families of Ohio Executive Committee Member
In this letter, Terry Kee makes an important point about the very real difference between “deadbeat” dads–those who intentinally do not pay their child support obligations–and “dead broke” dads, who, simply cannot afford to pay what the court determines they owe in child support. McIntyre is working a full-time job, supporting two other young children that he has full custody of, and going to school to better his life and that of his family.
It was clear to Judge Preisse that McIntyre is doing all he can to keep up with all of his various obligations, and that the 15-day jail sentence the child support enforcement agency was calling for was not going to help at all–in fact, it may have been the worst thing that could happen for everyone else involved. But too many other child support obligors fail to receive the same kind of consideration from family court judges when faced with similar problems.
As Terry Kee pointed out in his letter, “Too many judges treat the majority of down-on-their-luck support obligors as simple statistics, or worse, write them off as “deadbeats’ without due consideration and will not take the time or effort to really do what is best in each individual situation.”
We at Fathers and Families applaud Judge Dana Preisse’s willingness to look beyond labels in Julius McIntyre’s case, and look forward to the day when such careful consideration as that shown in Judge Preisse’s ruling is the norm, not the exception in family court cases.