The charges against Houston father, Clifford Hall, are quite disturbing especially when accompanied with the fact that was that he actually spent time behind bars. Mr. Hall became a trending topic last year when headlines screamed about a father in jail for spending too much time and paying too much child support to his son. According to Demond Fernandez of ABC Eyewitness News (2014), court documents show a judge ordered Hall in contempt back in December after determining that he owed for inconsistent payments over several months. Inconsistent payments, however, is a far cry from willfully failing to pay child support.
Since the latter is the legal reason one can be jailed for outstanding child support debt, it is baffling as to why this father was subject to such a violation to his constitutional rights.
The reasoning behind the jail sentence that is supposed to offer some solace to those outraged over the decision is a new piece of legislation. Although the ruling is confusing at the surface, a new Texas law is being held responsible for this clear miscarriage of justice. In Texas, family court judges can decide whether delinquent child support payers spend time in jail, (Jeffrey L. Boney, 2014). This punishment can be enforced even if, once the error has been identified, the debt has been satisfied by the parent.
Hall quickly paid the outstanding amount due, but found himself under the same punishments administered to those who fail to pay the debt in full. Even though the money was being deducted from Hall’s paychecks and the company admitted fault the judge refused to reverse the sentence. Behind the absurdity of this court decision lays the repeal of HB 847 by the 83rd Texas legislature. According to Boney (2014), this law makes a jail sentence a judgment option for being in contempt of court for failure to pay child support.
This option, of course, is common practice across the country. Even though there have been many proponents to the punishment of incarceration for owing child support debt, there seems to be no relief in sight for underemployed, unemployed, or low-income parents. Accompanied with the fact that parents face imprisonment when they are not in debt but are mere victims of computer errors is an even more frightening situation.
Although the company admitted its fault during the appeal process, it did not do so at the hearing in which Hall was initially found in contempt of court for late payments, (Boney, 2014). This only proves how extremely inflexible the legislators are when deciding laws and guidelines about child support enforcement. The lack of flexibility to personal situations is one of the main flaws in the current child support system and needs to be changed as soon as possible. This case defies every argument that legislatures and judges have been forcing people to believe since the child support reform was passed in the 1990s.
That argument is that child support enforcement is governed by what is in the best interest of the child. There is no rational person that can convincingly argue that sending a father to jail over a clerical error supports the best interest of the child. As these horrendous laws continue to plague our children, families, and parents, lawmakers must be forced to reform these unconstitutional laws. Removing parents from their children’s lives in a camouflage of concern is a hypocritical action.
The government and courts screech about fathers being more involved with their children but will lock them up for an extended period of time with no remorse when money is not paid. While the parent is incarcerated, the child is missing both time and money from the absent parent. We must end the justification of jailing people for debt because of the unconstitutionality of the act and the immorality of the reasoning. Most parents that owe child support debt are low-income and jailing a disadvantaged person for any profitable gain is akin to slavery. It is time to put an end to modern day slavery which is currently named child support.
Fernandez, D. (2014, January 21). Houston man who says he overpaid child support turns himself in | abc13.com. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://abc13.com/archive/9401923/
New Family Texas Law Claims First Victim African American Dad Separated From his Son and Sent to Jail after Employer Makes Crucial Child Support Withholding Error. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://forwardtimesonline.com/2013/index.php/state-local/item/1438-new-family-texas-law-claims-first-victim-african-american-dad-separated-from-his-son-and-sent-to-jail-after-employer-makes-crucial-child-support-withholding-erro