Jerry Davich: Not all deadbeat dads deserve the name
Jerry Davich email@example.com March 11, 2013 9:04AM
Mark Reid looks over documents related to his recent experience trying to correct mistakes with support payments he makes for his three children Thursday Mar. 7, 2013. Reid is a Hobart firefighter. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 11, 2013 6:21AM
I’ve written plenty about these poor excuses for fathers through the years. So many times, in fact, that I’ve declined column ideas about this cliché issue.
So when Mark Reid contacted me about his alleged child support failings, I was suspicious that he is just another deadbeat dad who is evading his financial responsibilities.
“I recently received a letter from the Child Support Division of Indiana that I was delinquent in my support,” wrote Reid, a Hobart firefighter and EMT. “Support has been paid faithfully since my divorce proceedings back in 2005. I truly believe this is an error on the part of the state, and I have no reason to think otherwise.”
With these ubiquitous he-said, she-said child support cases, my first instinct is to ask for paperwork and documentation. Otherwise, it’s just words in the air, not facts on a page. This is exactly what I requested of Reid, who was happy to oblige.
“I have copies of my court papers to substantiate all of what I’m telling you,” he told me. “I really don’t know where this is coming from.”
Reid received a letter dated Feb. 21 from the Indiana Department of Child Services stating that he was delinquent in his child support by $210. Because of this, the state would use his state taxes refund check to cover it.
“My state refund was for $280,” Reid told me.
The “due process” letter stated that Reid could appeal the “interception” of his state tax refund check by sending a written request for an administrative hearing. At the bottom of the letter was the address and phone number for the Porter County Prosecutor’s Office, and its child support division. (Porter County is where his divorce took place.)
“If the state or Porter County is screwing up, I need to get ahead of it,” he told himself.
This kind of paperwork screw-up has happened before to Reid, which he hasn’t forgotten. In 2006, he was wrongly arrested and processed at Porter County Jail, albeit briefly, for an alleged invasion of privacy charge from his ex-wife. It turns out that a protective order against him was dismissed months earlier. He was released a few hours after being detained.
So, after receiving the letter from the DCS, Reid called the number for the Porter County Prosecutor’s Office.
“The clerk asks for my birth date and Social Security number, and then tells me she cannot continue giving me case specifics,” Reid said. “I was told to call my lawyer.”
And he did, at a hefty cost per hour and an appointment date a week later.
“According to the letter, I could appeal to the state but since the clerk told me to go through my lawyer then I guess that’s what I have to do,” he said. “It seems rather absurd to me. Most people can’t afford the continued lawyer fees and look forward to their tax refunds.”
Reid also called the clerk who handles payroll for the Hobart Fire Department, and she told him her office has received no orders to modify his child support withdrawals. Also, a website shows he’s up to date with his child support, and a printout shows his last year of payroll deductions. It’s all in order.
In the meantime, knowing that he’s up to date on his child support payments, he considers the cost for this paperwork miscue or computer glitch.
“I’m sure this issue will take several days to sort out and, in the end, it will cost me more than my (tax) refund,” he told me. “And more of my time and frustration at a system that usually assumes I am some sort of deadbeat father.”
In time, he tells me, the county or state will realize its error but “will not admit it, apologize or offer to pay me for their screw-up,” he said.
“Plus, I can’t be the only guy this is happening to,” he told me.
‘Not a common occurrence’
At this point, I contact the DCS and the Porter County Prosecutor’s Office for more information or insights on Reid’s case.
As I expected, federal law prohibits the DCS from discussing or disclosing any information specific to a child-support case.
“We can only discuss general process and procedures,” explained spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland.
She explained such process and procedures, essentially saying that in cases regarding federal tax refunds, clients are to call the county prosecutor’s office. With state tax refund checks, clients are to write a letter of appeal.
While she explained this to me, I notice that the letter Reid received explains this, but in fine print, of sorts. But I can definitely see how Reid missed it and acted as he did.
When I asked McFarland — who’s polite, speedy and professional, I might add — if this same situation has happened to other fathers, she replied, “It’s not a common occurrence.”
When I asked McFarland for a comment for this column, she replied only, “We are working with him to rectify his situation.”
I also contacted Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel, who also quickly looked into Reid’s case, upon my request. An office staff member said the computer program system showed that Reid was one week behind in his payments. It has to do with the date the state loaded the order into the system.
The state, I was told, has already fixed the problem and sent Reid a letter explaining the mistake.
That same day, Reid spoke with a DCS supervisor in Indianapolis about his case.
“Initially, she seemed somewhat apologetic,” Reid said. “She stated I was supposed to call her office and that the number is on the letter. Which it is, in the letterhead.”
Reid asked her, “How in the world would I know to call your office? This hasn’t happened to me before.”
“She said she deals with this sort of thing often and, in fact, it had happened multiple times to the same gentleman,” Reid said. “This was just ‘my year.’ ”
Reid became upset.
“There’s one hell of a problem with their system,” he told me. “And I may have to eat my attorney’s bill.”
Plus, he’s angry that DCS personnel and county clerks repeatedly assume he’s a deadbeat dad, which he isn’t in regard to child support. (I can’t speak to his other roles as a father.)
“I’m always met with the same suspicious attitude, as if I’m guilty of something,” he said. “Guilty until proven innocent, that is.”
In hindsight, I guess I’m no better than those clerks who routinely deal with deadbeat dads in the same suspicious fashion as I do — guilt by reputation.
Maybe today’s column will remind us otherwise, at least in select situations.
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