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Boy Mistakenly Threatened With Jail For Being Deadbeat Dad

Glenn SacksChild support enforcement is notorious for its bureaucratic mix-ups and its inability to fix them, but even by their standards this Orlando, Florida story--Boy Mistakenly Threatened With Jail For Being Deadbeat Dad (Local6.com, FL) is extreme:

"A childless teenager in Orange County, Fla., was threatened with jail for not paying thousands of dollars in child support despite efforts by his mother to clear up the identity mistake.

"The report featured Timothy Williams, who received letters asking that he pay child support for several children.

"'At first I thought it was funny but it just kept coming and coming and coming,' Williams said.

"The first letter came in April.

"'It was from the Department of Revenue stating that my son was past due in child support payment,' mother Arnell Williams said. 'I was like, 'Wow.'

"The woman said she took the letters to the child support enforcement office in downtown Orlando.

"'I spoke to the young lady at the window who said she will make sure it will get taken care of,' Williams said.

"'But the letters kept coming,' Local 6 reporter Nancy Alvarez said. 'So did a payment booklet and court orders, all of it for money owed to three different women for several children, including some who were older than Timothy. But the state still thought the teen was their dad.'

"With the documents threatening arrest if Timothy did not pay up, Williams called the Department of Revenue in Tallahassee.

"However, the letters continued to come to Williams. She then called the Problem Solvers.

"Local 6 News discovered that the real Timothy Williams is a man with a long criminal record.

"Last month, Jennifer Wilson called the Problem Solvers after the state sent three of her child support payments to the wrong address.

"The Department of Revenue blamed the mix up on a new computer system."

I love it--here we have an outrageous error, and the woman can't get it solved through the department, and it takes the media to get the injustice fixed. I wish I could say I was surprised.

I've written about child support errors on numerous occasions. In my co-authored column Memphis Commercial Appeal, Chest-Thumping Sheriff Humiliate Hard Luck Noncustodial Parents (Tennessee Tribune, 4/27/06) we provided some examples of the way "innocent people have been vilified and subjected to public ridicule" when child support enforcement agencies publicize "most wanted deadbeat parent" lists. We wrote:

"...when the Louisville Courier-Journal published the names and addresses of 1,000 alleged child support scofflaws in July of last year on behalf of Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze, they listed James H. Frazier as a deadbeat who owes $57,000. Unfortunately, they listed his name above the home address of James R. Frazier.

"WAVE 3 TV in Louisville reported that James R. Frazier and his wife Bertha--both of whom seethed at being publicly humiliated--had been erroneously targeted by Maze before, and had spent years fighting to straighten out the error. Maze's office had previously acknowledged its mistake--and then went ahead and published the erroneous information anyway. In fact, as of October 1--over two months later--Maze still had not corrected the error on his list of 1,000 'deadbeats' on the County Attorney's website.

"ABC 7 KGO News in San Francisco, California has followed the saga of Alex Mendez, a childless man who has been mistakenly targeted for alleged overdue child support five times in the past three years by two different counties. After embarrassing media coverage, local enforcement officials repeatedly pledged to fix the error but have failed to do so.

"The list published by the Commercial Appeal appears to have similar problems. Memphis' News Channel 3 WREG quotes a juvenile court source as saying that some of those on the list may have already paid their child support. Nicholas Burchett of WREG was shocked and angered to find his father listed as a 'deadbeat'--the man has been dead for 14 years.

"Eyewitness News-WPTY reports that the Department of Human Services lost thousands of dollars of child support paid by Hugh Jones of Memphis, leaving Jones with a $10,000 child support arrearage. According to WPTY, DHS cashed Jones' checks six times but, despite Jones' detailed documentation, has failed to credit his account. WPTY reports that Jones 'has to continue paying his child support if he wants to remain a free man' and avoid jail, even though his 'debt' consists of money he has already paid."

In the case of Herbert L. Chalmers, a St. Louis, Missouri child support obligor, the state's wage garnishment to pay child support for his adult children left him only $400 a month to live on. Chalmers asserted that he was being vastly overcharged, and that he was unable to get the error fixed. In April Chalmers exploded, going on a murderous rampage before committing suicide. In the ensuing investigation the Missouri Department of Social Services admitted that for the past several years Chalmers was being garnisheed five times more in support than he actually owed. The DSS blamed a clerical error.

To learn more about the Chalmers case, see I Couldn't Be Less Surprised.

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