Stories covering the financial and emotional plight of non-custodial parents, the overwhelming majority being fathers, are rare in the mainstream media. Usually non-custodial parents who, for whatever reason, fail to pay court ordered child support are derided and humiliated in the press and called “deadbeats” often making them scapegoats for the irresponsible decisions of the other parent. Judges and legislators often chime in along with women’s advocacy groups demonizing disenfranchised fathers who have had their rights taken away as parents and their money and freedom taken away forcibly.
Recently, however, a small but growing number of voices in the mainstream media have started to pay attention to the circumstances of non-custodial parents and in some cases openly criticize the child support system.
Early last month several news outlets covered a police operation in Alabama named “Operation Iron Snare.” It was widely criticized by many of those reporting and comments in the online articles concurred with the tone of the articles. The Huffington Post quoted the reactions of bloggers commenting on the operation.
From an August 9th article entitled “Operation Iron Snare: Alabama’s ‘sleazy’ trick to catch deadbeat dads”:
“The reaction: Forget sleazy, says Meredith Carroll at Strollerderby. This borders on “cruel,” and is somehow making me “feel really, really, bad” for the deadbeat parents who I should be furious with. That’s for sure, says Tom Fornelli at CBS Sports. “Yes, they deserve what they’re getting, but it just feels wrong.” Plus, the whole scheme is a waste of time and money. Was such an expensive, elaborate ploy catering to the news media really necessary?”
Readers are invited to watch the police participating in the operation through a video featured on the page. Be warned it is disturbing and may make viewers angry.
On September 12th MSNBC, a highly regarded and popular source of news worldwide published an expansive article entitled “Unable to pay child support, poor parents land behind bars” written by Mike Brunker the Projects Team Editor. The Thomas Ball incident was cited in the article marking the first time a national news outlet mentioned the affair.
From the article:
“The threat of jailing delinquent parents is intended to coerce them to pay, but in rare cases it can have tragic results.
In June, a New Hampshire father and military veteran, Thomas Ball, died after dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself ablaze in front of the Cheshire County Court House.
In a long, rambling letter to the local Sentinel newspaper, the 58-year-old Ball stated that he did so to focus attention on what he considered unfair domestic violence laws and because he expected to be jailed at an upcoming hearing on his failure to pay up to $3,000 in delinquent child support, even though he had been out of work for two years.
The ability of judges to jail parents without a trial is possible because failure to pay child support is usually handled as a civil matter, meaning that the non-custodial parent — or the “contemnor” in legal terms — is found guilty of contempt of court and ordered to appear at a hearing.
He or she is not entitled to some constitutional protections that criminal defendants receive, including the presumption of innocence. And in five states — Florida, Georgia, Maine, South Carolina and Ohio — one of the omitted protections is the right to an attorney.”
Although many would argue that tragedies coming about as a result of child support and custody laws are not rare at all and also that Thomas Ball’s letter was anything but “long” and “rambling” this is a very encouraging sign that the rights of fathers are no longer being ignored by the press.