|Reform Child Support Laws: Not All Parents are Deadbeats
4/29/2015 5:53:40 PM
By Beverly Gadson-Birch
In the aftermath of Water Scott’s death, Congressman Clyburn touched on causes and effects of the Child Support System in South Carolina. For all intent and purposes, the law was designed to ensure that children are provided for by their parents and not become a ward of the state.
While that is how it should be, enforcement remedies are counterproductive to the intent of the law. How can parents provide for their children if they are locked up? Parents cannot keep a job if they are being locked up constantly for failure to pay child support. This was the case of Leon Walters who was killed while in police custody back in 1999. I know this case because Walters was family.
Let’s begin by saying that not all parents who fail to pay child support are dead beat parents. Walters was a big robust diabetic male weighing over 300 pounds. He was behind in his child support payments not because he didn’t want to pay, he had health issues that prevented him from holding down a steady job.
The day of his arrest, Walters was being a responsible parent. He went to Family Court to explain why he was behind in his child support and ended up dead. He explained that he was expecting a disability check soon and would pay it. Walters wasn’t running from his responsibility; he wasn’t running from the police. He voluntarily went to the court to see about getting an extension. He was detained in a temporary detention cell for being in contempt of the child support order.
While in the detention cell and not having his medication, Walters became agitated and had to be restrained; or, at least that was the report the family received. Walter’s agitation could have also been heightened by the fact that he had just buried his sister who was a victim of domestic violence. The officers’ claimed they feared for their safety and other detainees due to Walters’ combativeness and weight. Walters was put in a stronghold and strangled. Walter should have never died that day while trying to do what he thought was the right thing. The family filed a wrongful death suit and the case was decided in favor of the defendants, Charleston County Sheriff Department, et al.
In the Walter Scott case, Scott was stopped allegedly for a broken brake light by Officer Michael Slager. After Scott’s death, discussions soon ensued in the community around why Scott fled the police. Apparently, there was a warrant out for Scott for failure to pay child support. Whether that was his motive for running away that fateful day, no one can say with certainly. If a child support system instills that type of fear with no alternative solutions other than jail, it is time to overhaul the system.
I support parents taking care of their children. I say if you are man or woman enough to make children then you must assume the responsibilities that come along with your decision. However, from the very beginning, I differed on the severity of the law; it’s a one size fits all application and enforcement.
Some years ago, a friend’s son was picked up for five dollars. She had paid her son’s child support but there must have been a fee tacked on between the time her son received the notice and when the child support was paid. A warrant was issued and he was picked up for non-support. That points to beyond ridiculous and a waste of law enforcement time and taxpayers’ monies. It also puts additional financial burdens on the parent who has to be bailed out or who may lose their job due to jail time. All laws should have some common sense applications attached. And for parents who receive jail sentences and records, their chances of finding employment are little to none.
I have said it before and I will say it again, parents who find themselves in Family Court for willful failure to take care of their children and ducking and dodging their responsibilities while still making more babies, throw the book at them but parents who have verifiable health issues, lose their jobs and therefore their ability to pay or other extenuating circumstances should not have to go to jail.
Parents are not relieved or forgiven of their child support obligations when jailed. In most cases, legally once you do your time you have paid for your crime. This is not true for child support. You go in owing and come out owing even more. How the heck are you going to pay child support if you are in jail? If you are pulled off your job and thrown into jail, the court is saying to me “lemmee” pay for this irresponsible parent by passing the bill onto taxpayers. And, I say to that, I have enough taxes to pay and I sure don’t need to pay for other folks children. That’s what it boils down to.
Some mothers out there are trapping men into having babies and then when these men leave them they run to the court for help. There must also be some accountability placed on mothers for irresponsible “trapping” behavior. Legislators, are y’all hearing me? Let’s review the law and see if you can come up with some revisions that will provide some other alternatives other than jail.