$truggle for $upport

Raising children is no easy task. Not receiving child support makes it even harder.

Last year, Bradley County citizens caught wind of a new initiative starting at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. It was a simple idea, and one that seems to be working. Known as the Deadbeats Hall of Shame, Sheriff Tim Gobble’s brainchild brings attention to the incredible amount of child support some parents are owed but never receive. Essentially, the Hall of Shame serves as a Most Wanted for individuals who for one reason or another fall behind on child support.

Currently, the lowest amount owed by a deadbeat parent is nearly $10,000, owed by Charles Edward Brown. While these individuals are breaking the law, they aren’t always criminals.

“I don’t think it’s malicious,” explained Susanne Wisdom, owner of Supervised Visitation. For a few years, Wisdom assisted Judge Carrell Van Deacon and later worked with Judge Daniel Swafford through Supervised Visitation. She recently became the owner of Supervised Visitation when it lost funding and became a private company. “They’re so off track they don’t think they can afford it,” Wisdom said of parents who don’t pay child support. “They don’t know how to budget.”

A Multi-Faceted Problem

A few months ago, Christy Spurgeon, mother of three, went to Child Support Services to have child support garnished from her ex-husband’s wages. She said she was given the runaround and was finally told to get a lawyer.

According to court documents, Spurgeon was owed $9,600 in back child support when she filed suit against her ex-husband. The complaint also states that Spurgeon’s ex owes substantial amounts for their children’s medical bills, phone bills and other expenses. Before going to court, Spurgeon’s lawyer said the case was cut-and-dry.

Spurgeon wanted $800 a month of child support garnished from her husband’s wages, but had no fortune in court. As a result, she works 14 hours a day as a massage therapist – with a broken wrist.

“I don’t have a choice,” Spurgeon said. “I’m not getting any help. I’m sinking.”

Spurgeon is not alone. According to BradleySheriff.com, Bradley County residents owe more than $700,000 in delinquent child support payments.

Count ‘Em Up

When calculating child support, a number of factors are considered. Income of both parents, child-related expenses due to work and whether the non-custodial parent pays child support for children from other relationships are just a few of them. But a calculator never has the final word.

“Usually [the parents] make an agreement,” Wisdom said. “If the parties don’t agree on it, the court will deem the amount.”

In Spurgeon’s case, the $800 of child support and $200 of arrearage she is supposed to receive each month is decent. Why has Spurgeon remained empty handed? Depends on who answers the questions. Regardless of the reason, Spurgeon is finally willing to take the next step if necessary.

“I didn’t want [my ex-husband to be arrested] for the longest time,” Spurgeon said. “But then I got to the point where I thought one night – one night might shake him up. It would break my heart, but I think one night in [jail would make him] realize he can’t rule me forever. He doesn’t control my life.”

Hall The Exception

In most cases, parents don’t pay child support because they simply don’t have the money. While jail time is a legal consequence, it’s not preferable, as incarceration makes it practically impossible to pay child support. Instead, most judges give warnings and encourage parents to pay whatever they can – even if it is only a portion of what is owed. However, when the amount of child support goes through the roof – a rare event – the Hall of Shame kicks in.

While Sheriff Gobble stated that the program is working well, he declined a more in-depth interview. But the results speak for themselves. Right off the bat, two people listed in the Deadbeats Hall of Shame were brought to justice. Carl D. Howard, who owed over $28,000 in back child support, was arrested. So was Paul Landus Johnson. But how big an impact will the Hall of Shame have on parents who are delinquent with their child support payment?

“It’s hard to say,” Wisdom said. “The ones on that list have so many problems that [paying child support] is not on their radar.”

With little hope of this changing, parents in need of child support should take the advice of those who have been through the process.

“It’s like living death every day,” Spurgeon admitted. “You just want to give up because your family fell apart.”

Instead, Spurgeon suggests going through the state up front and having everything in writing to ensure child support is handled appropriately.

At press time, BN Weekly was unable to contact the legal counsel for Spurgeon’s ex-husband.

Published in Bradley News Weekly.