Thousands of Mississippi children miss out on some of life's basic necessities because Deadbeat parents fail to or in many cases refuse to pay court ordered financial support. If they are in arrears more than $10,000, officials say it's a felony. They face up to 10-thousand-dollars in fines and 5 years in prison.
One frustrated Rankin County mother wants her ex locked up for neglecting his children.
"I'd rather see him in jail if he's not gonna pay his child support," said 43-year-old Sandra Richardson.
Richardson is the mother of two sons; a 14-year-old who she has to home school with Apsergers and ADHD and a 21-year-old with epilepsy. The Rankin county woman is disabled, living with COPD and Degenerative Disk Disease, and says her ex-husband owes nearly $15 thousand dollars in child support over 10 years.
"This year, he has sent me a total of $390," said Richardson. "Some years he hadn't paid me anything."
Richardson says the father refuses to pay, and she's getting no help from DHS.
"Klennon Stephens is my kids' dad," said Richardson. "They told me I need to find out where he works. I'm not getting paid to do their job. They should do their job on their own. They're sitting in these offices getting top dollar when mothers like me raising kids by themselves are having to struggle to make ends meet.
"Sometimes the only way to find them is to depend on the custodial parent to locate them for us," said Cathy Sykes, Director of Field Operations for the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
Sykes says they also use bank accounts, post offices, new hire reports and other means to track them. When they are located, the threat of losing their livelihood, like professional licenses, often results in payments.
"Actually, last month, we suspended 573 licenses," said Sykes. "Of course the majority of those were drivers licenses, but we suspend fishing and hunting licenses. We have suspended cosmetology licenses." DHS has over 300,000 cases in the system. The state requires the absent parent to pay 14% of their adjusted gross income in child support. Last year the agency collected $334 million dollars.
Richardson wants her children's father to go to jail.
"My ex-husband did come to Mississippi about a year and a half ago," said Richardson. "I called DHS and told them he is in Mississippi. They didn't do nothing the whole time he was in Mississippi to try to go after him."
But DHS says the goal is to get the parent to pay, which won't happened if they're behind bars.
"It does take a long time, said Sykes. "Most of the time when we do file contempt, it's up to the courts whether or not to put someone in jail."
"We have one prosecutor that's assigned statewide," said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. "You know, DA's have the authority to bring these cases as well."
Hood's office also tracks down and prosecutes offenders. He says jail time is a possibility if parents are $10,000.00 behind in support payments. They have 20 cases pending, and he sympathizes with struggling parents like Richardson.
"If a child has some type of condition where they need more medical assistance, any jury that I've been before, they're gonna convict him," said Hood. "The judge is gonna send them to the penitentiary."
Meanwhile DHS is making changes to the process. They are working to right size or modify the amount parents are ordered to pay if they lose their jobs or their salary changes, so they can manage and meet their obligations.
DHS also has a pilot program in Hinds county which orders absent parents to attend parenting classes and job readiness programs instead of jail.
"Anytime that we have a parent that's not involved in a child's life, whether its paying or not paying, it affects the child in a negative way," said Sykes.
"I just want him to help pay for the children he helped make," said Richardson.
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