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Parent's on Pizza Boxes by Minnesota Attorney Maury D. Beaulier

MN Fathers Rights Lawyers, WI Father's Rights Attorneys, Dads Rights

In Butler County Ohio, Cynthia Brown, the head of county child support enforcement office decided that it was a good idea to put, what she calls, "deadbeat parent's" on pizza boxes.

I have spoken out against this practice as a method that is harmful to the children and a method that also highlights the disparity in our legal system that treats parents as wallets and pocket books rather than parents. You may review some comments in an Associated Press Article reprinted by Fox News and in my debates with Cynthia Brown on WBAL Radio in Baltimore, WCCO Radio "Pizza Box" Child Support Enforcement Tactics and on the National Fox Television Program "Fox & Friends."

For additional information on the issue visit the Website of National Father's Rights Commentator Glenn Sacks.

Many people have asked me what is so wrong with seeking child support payments by including parent's pictures on pizza boxes. My answer is multifaceted but is focused primarily on three issues. First and foremost, the practice harms children. Second, treating child support paying parents and, particularly, father's like criminals by creating a most wanted list ignores many of the reasons that child support arrears accrue in the first place. Finally, the practice clearly highlights the disparity between enforcement of child support and enforcement of parenting rights.

Reasons Child Support Arrears Accrue.

There is no doubt that there are a minority number of child support obligors who simply refuse to pay child support. However, such parents are the exception and not the rule. Yet, our state collection efforts, whether Minnesota or Ohio, paint them all with the same broad brush.

It is compelling that a great majority of people who fall behind in their support do so unintentionally or for understandable reasons. These may include:

  • Parents seeking to rationalize why they are unable to enforce their parenting rights but must still pay child support;
  • Parents who fall victim to life circumstances which may include job loss, injury or other family tragedies;
  • Parents who fall victim to mental illness or to feelings of hopelessness and despair rendering them unable to act to resolve their child support issues.

Further complicating these issues is the fact that our legal system has grown complicated and confusing, often placing it outside of the understanding of ordinary people. Parents who are behind in child support often to not have the resources to hire legal counsel. As a result, they must attempt to navigate the murky bureaucratic waters related to finding appropriate legal forms, filing them correctly and serving the other party. Even if the administrative procedures are followed correctly, pro se litigants often fail to support their motions with adequate information or evidence since they have not been trained to understand legal burdens of proof or what evidence the court may demand in a particular case. In such cases, motions may be denied, income imputed while financial problems mount and arrears continue to accrue.

Support for the contention that the most significant negative impact of our child support laws falls on the lower income is highlighted in Butler County Ohio. First, it is a concern that, as of this writing, out of 20 deadbeat parents pictured on pizza boxes, 18 were fathers. Further emphasizing the problem is the fact that each of those fathers possessed few employable skills and were qualified only for the lowest paying unskilled positions. Those financial circumstances would make any child support obligation difficult and it would clearly place the parent precariously on the brink of insolvency should even a minor event impair their earning capacity.

What is also compelling is the non-modifiable nature of child support arrears. Despite the fact that unforeseen circumstances can occur and despite the fact that the legal system is difficult to navigate without counsel, child support arrears cannot be retroactively modified except under very special circumstances.

As a direct result, the ends of collecting child support against such parents does not justify the means which includes attempting to shame the parent with their face on a pizza box.

Punishing the Child

One thing that Cynthia Brown seems to ignore is that by putting parents on pizza boxes, in the end, it is the child that is punished. Ms. Brown contends that any parent who is placed on a pizza box already has destroyed their relationship with a child. My response is that, first, such a contention is irresponsible and unfounded. A failure to pay child support does not mean a parent does not seek a relationship with the children whether it has been denied or not by the custodial parent. However, assuming, arguendo, that Ms. Brown's point is valid, the child is still victimized. The practice of putting a parent's face on a pizza box serves to harm the child in the following ways:

  • Alienate a child from the parent;
  • Punish the child by exposing that child to shame among their peers;
  • Destroy the child's sense of self identity because, regardless of how close their relationship is with a parent, that child, draws part of their sense of self identity from that parent. It conveys the message that if my parent is bad and a criminal, I am bad.
  • Expose private family matters to public scrutiny which further impairs the ability of a parent to find gainful employment and to pay support.

Potential for Error.

Even with the best laid plans, making a mistake is possible and the consequence of an error is extreme. For those who have dealt before with the state and county child support systems, it may even be accepted without argument that the possibility of a mistake is probable. Child Support Enforcement Agencies are presented with a great volume of information that must be processed monthly, often with uninitiated workers due, in part, to a high turnover rates in child support departments. As a result, mistakes happen. They happen regularly and they happen often. Mistakes may range from failing to credit a child support payment to applying a payment to ongoing support rather than arrears to improperly reflecting child support obligations.

Despite overwhelming evidence that mistakes occur regularly, Ms. Cynthia Brown has claimed on numerous programs that "we do not make mistakes." This arrogance underscores the potential for error and, in the case of placing photographs of parents on pizza boxes, it may brand a parent long term.

What is even more alarming is the fact that in Ohio, Ms. Brown acknowledges that two "Wanted" posters are circulated each year on pizza boxes. Those posters are not recalled. As a result, even after a parent brings their account current, the deadbeat parenting poster remains in circulation wrongfully picturing a parent as a "deadbeat" that is actually current in their obligation.

Parents as Wallets

One thing that cannot be ignored is the fact that our legal system and its administrative machinations treat enforcement of child support in a much different way than it treats enforcement of parenting rights. Parents who fall behind in child support regardless of circumstance are exposed to numerous perils as part of the collection process. Parents may be jailed based on both state and federal criminal charges. Parents may be jailed based on civil contempt. Parents may have licenses suspended including automobile licenses, work licenses and sporting licenses. Parents may have their passports invalidated. they may even appear on most wanted posters and, now, pizza boxes as "deadbeats." Yet, there is no similar treatment for parents who ignore court orders and obstruct parenting time. Civil contempt remedies are rarely supported by the courts. Jail time for contempt related to parenting schedules is almost unheard of. Certainly, there are no remedies related to license suspension or passport invalidation. What type of message does this send? In essence we put the emphasis on parents as wallets rather than as parent's who provide care.

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