A deadbeat dad who owed more than a half-million dollars in back child support was arrested, handcuffed and sent to jail in Maine this past week. New laws in dozens of states are requiring deadbeat parents to pay up or lose driver licenses, business licenses and maybe license plates.
It is now a federal offense to change residence across state lines to avoid paying child support. The IRS can withhold tax refunds from parents who owe back payments.The arrest in Maine of one of the biggest offenders in terms of money owed shows that aggressive enforcement can work. The problem is that many states have the laws to deal with deadbeat parents but don't enforce them.
The federal portion of the law has been in effect for three years but only 77 parents have been charged, though nationwide an estimated $34 billion in court-ordered child support remains uncollected, with 800,000 children on public assistance because a parent is not paying up. And some 30 percent of the cases involve parents who have moved to another state.
In more than half the interstate cases, custodial parents report receiving support payments only occasionally, seldom or never.
Clearly, the new laws have some teeth, but more dogged enforcement policies are needed.
The Maine case was widely publicized because of the amount of child support owed and the fact the father was tracked down and arrested. He has been ordered to pay his children what he owes them, but it remains to be seen whether it will actually happen.
Even more tragic are the thousands of children living in poverty who could be helped immensely by much smaller court-ordered child support payments. When a divorced mother doesn't have enough money to put food on the table, even a moderate amount of child support can make a huge difference in the quality of lives of the children.
Some non-custodial parents say they are not allowed to be involved in their children's lives and try to justify non-payment that way. There is no defense for failure to make sure the children you helped bring into the world have the best life possible.