The idea of humiliation in order to get results is not new but the act should be terminated in child support cases. Many parents across the country have been subject to having their faces being showcased on billboards and most wanted posters due to owing child support debt. Other parents have been subject to wearing degrading signs to announce to the community their inability to pay child support. There is never any information concerning unemployment, health issues or any mention of homelessness as being reasons that child support has not been paid. Custodial parents that face hard times can apply for numerous programs that assist with cash, food, and shelter. Although the criteria that custodial parents must meet in order to qualify for those programs may be difficult, noncustodial parents, mostly fathers, are not afforded such luxuries.
Instead, they are at the mercy of the courts and are subject to humiliating punishments such as wearing signs for several hours a day over an extended period of time. This form of punishment has not been proven an effective motivational tool in forcing parents to pay more or pay more consistently. But this does not deter judges across the country from handing out these degrading punishments. As explained in Men’s Legal Center (2014), parents were given a choice of having jail time or having their time reduced if they agreed to stand on a sidewalk corner with a sandwich sigh that said ‘I DO NOT PAY CHILD SUPPORT’. This is neither beneficial to the children or to the father as carrying out the sentence does not produce any tangible benefits. In Kentucky, three people agreed to do this for four hours per day for 10 days, (Men’s Legal Center, 2014). Public humiliation will not generate money to pay support so this punishment did nothing for the children.
Kentucky is not alone in the practice of disgracing parents into paying child support. Summit County, Ohio launched a huge campaign in 2007 which utilized billboards as a way of tracking down those parents with felony child support warrants. The persecutor decided to feature 39 felons on eight regular and digital roadside billboards throughout Summit County, (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). The county was able to collect some of the outstanding debt but this was not due exclusively to the use of billboards to induce public shaming. According to the US Health and Human Services (2008), of the 39 individuals, 13 were located and arrested through receipt of anonymous tips, surrendering upon seeing themselves on the billboards, or sent a payment on their case. Sending the payments may not be the result of the billboards. This could be the result of parents finding gainful employment and finally being able to afford the monthly payments. With the use of such an extreme embarrassment tactic, a 100% surrender and collection rate would be better for supporting the use of this tool for debt collection. Less than half of parents were ever arrested and the money collected during this operation can hardly be considered as successful.
Summit County apparently impressed with the arrest of less than half of their most wanted, introduced a new child support debt collection campaign. There were 25 faces of parents broadcasted around the county which yielded only 11 arrests. There were, of course, responses from other parents but a response did not necessarily guarantee collection. In fact, the total support arrearages at the time of the indictment of the absent parents totaled $1,200,172 (U.S. Health and Human Services, 2008). Since Ohio fails to pass-through any money to families receiving Temporary Aide for Needy Families (TANF), this humiliation of citizens is for the sole purpose of collecting money for the state. One would think that this form of forcing debt payment would be lucrative especially since it continues even after courts have struck down this type of punishment. According to Jennifer King of Lawyers.com (2002), the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court went to far when it ordered a deadbeat parent to appear in public with a sign reading ‘Need a Job to Support Children’.
Although state laws vary where child support is concerned, all states should recognize that another court has deemed this form of punishment as going step too far. Even with the possible civil liberties violations that Ohio may face, the billboards still appear even though it may cost more than is actually collected to run the billboards. This is cost that is paid by the taxpayers as well as the emotional cost to the children who may see their parents on the billboards. After all of the discomfiting, anonymous tips and surrendering, the state only collected $8,461 in 2008. This is a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the one million plus that parents are accused of owing. This statistic proves that people cannot make payments without having money. The stigma of being ‘deadbeat’ and humiliating a payment from someone will never be successful when the people that owe the debt are poor. Dead broke should never automatically mean dead beat. The money that counties use to post billboards would be better used in funding jobs programs. The hours that parents may spend holding a sign on the corner could be spent attending employment assistance programs. As we recover from a long and damaging recession, in which the US paid billions in bank bailouts, the government needs to start bailing out low-income parents from the continuous indebtedness to the states.
King, J. (2012, March 19). Public Shaming Used as Punishment for Deadbeat Parents | Legal News | Lawyers.com. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://blogs.lawyers.com/2012/03/publish-shaming-used-as-punishment-for-deadbeat-parents/
Men's Legal Center. (March 13). Child Support Offenders in Kentucky Choose Humiliation Over Jail Time. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from https://www.menslegal.com/blog/child-support-offenders-in-kentucky-choose-humiliation-over-jail-time/
Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2009, March 1). Compendium of Best Practices in Child Support – 2008 | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/compendium-of-promising-practices-good-ideas-in-child-support-enforcement