I fought the law and the law won

handcuffed handsAs they were putting handcuffs on me, I had a flashback of a chorus of an old song playing in my head:

“I fought the law and the law won. 

I fought the law and the law won.”

Like catching a case of the giggles in a funeral, I found myself smirking at the remembrance of this song – though I was not at all happy about the circumstances or the reason I was being “locked up.”

Growing up, I had a record player in my room.  As best as I can remember it, I only owned 2 records myself; one of a Bill Cosby routine and the other was Bob Newhart – both delivering hilarious deadpan comedic genius.   I listened to both of them repeatedly for years.  When those two were not spinning in my room, I would borrow some LP’s from my step-Dad’s collection.   One favorite from the Bobby Fuller Four was called, “I fought the law and the law won.”   The lyrics, “I needed money because I had none” and “robbing people with a six gun” lead the listener to assume the nature of the “fight” with the law.

Last August, I had my own “fight” with the law.  Needless to say, my “fight” was a bit different than the one in the song.   I wish I could tell you I was a fighting a speeding ticket or that I appeared before a judge because of a parking violation.   No, my “crime” was a bit more serious.   And no, it did not involve “robbing people with a six gun.”

Unfortunately, my “fight” with the law had to do with child support.   Like most divorced Dads, I am required (by law) to pay this each month.  However, instead of my child support amount being determined by my income, I am required to pay a flat amount regardless of how much money I make.  (For the record, I foolishly agreed to this arrangement while unemployed unaware of how difficult finding a salaried position would be in a struggling economy)  The amount I owe, by anyone’s standard, is high – particularly in relation to my income.   To make matters worse, I have really struggled to find consistent employment and employment that will pay consistently.   I have sent my resume to hundreds of companies (literally) and have found that the only companies that will pay the professional income I need are the commission-only sales jobs.  As those who share a similar compensation can attest, commission-only sales can be “feast or famine.”  Some months you make quota, some months you don’t.   Given this economy, it’s been mostly famine.  Many months I have been unable to pay rent, and barely able to put gasoline in my car or keep my electric on.   It’s been that bad.   It’s not that I didn’t want to pay my child support – I literally couldn’t and still survive.  The months I had the money, I paid.   As the saying goes, “you can’t get blood from a stone.”

So last August, I found myself back in court – as a Defendant, trying to explain to a family court judge as to why I was behind (yet again) on the child support.   Though there were many factors that attributed to my inconsistent track record, I tried to merely explain what caused the most recent infraction.  Not being able to afford a lawyer, I reluctantly represented myself and was given only a few minutes to plead my case.   In my possession I had proof of employment, proof of why I was not able to pay child support that month (I lost an unprecedented 5 sales in one month thus causing a charge back of commission) and proof of incoming income.  The judge was not interested in seeing any documentation.   My request to approach the bench with this information was denied.  Shockingly, he then turned to the Plaintiff and asked for her suggestion on how to handle this situation.   Her suggestion was crystal clear… I should be sent to jail.   Apparently there I would “learn my lesson.”

Within seconds, the judge declared his verdict, grabbed the gavel and slammed it on the mahogany wood “bench.”   I was to be sentenced to six months in the local county jail.   Needless to say, I stood there a bit stunned.  All I kept thinking was, “How is this in the best interest of my children?  How does me being in jail get them the money they need?”   Within 30 seconds I was in custody and whisked away by the courtroom bailiff.

Once I was out of the courtroom, I immediately surrendered my personal belongings and three different set of cuffs were placed on me; one on my wrists, one around my waist and one binding my ankles.   I was treated like a dangerous serial killer.   A bit extreme, I thought, for a man who unintentionally violated a civil court order.

Over the next hour, I watched man after man enter in from the courtroom, all before the same judge, all violating the same order, all receiving the same exact sentence.   As we compared stories in our 10 x 15 cell, it was obvious that justice was the last thing being served that day.   The family court’s objective is to determine what is in the “best interest of the children.”   The court is the established keeper of this mantra.   That is the standard that all parties (Judge included) are supposed to follow.   It falls to the court to determine not only WHAT is in the children’s best interest but how to enforce it.  Granted, it is in the best interests of the children to receive child support.  Raising children costs money.   Most divorced dads understand that and 98% of us want to get the kids what they need.  98% of us pay what we can as soon as we can.

That morning, in that tiny little cell directly behind the Judge’s chamber, every divorced dad in chains asked the same question, “How is THIS in our kid’s best interest?  How is losing our jobs in their best interest?  How is losing our homes and worldly possessions in their best interest?   How can a Dad be expected to provide anything for his children when everything is being taken away?”

Over the next few months, I sat, ate, worked and slept next to over 250 divorced dads incarcerated for their failure to pay child support.   I learned their names and heard their stories.   Of the throng of men I met, only a handful were truly “deadbeat dads,” the scarlet letter title automatically given to men in our predicament.   The majority of the men are dads who love their kids.  They are dads who want to provide for their children.  They are dads who, for various reasons, are victims of this economy or the target of an ex-wife who just wants to see them punished for past sins.   And sadly, the courts facilitate such revenge with counter productive punishments like jail sentences.   Jail should be for criminals.  Or actual deadbeat dads (the few I met).  Jail should be for dangerous people; drug dealers, drug users, shoplifters, murderers, rapists and burglars – not loving dads who are struggling in a hurting economy.

On August 27th, 2013 – ten dads had a fight with the law and the law won.mugshot

Ten dads lost their jobs.

Ten dads lost their homes.

Ten dads lost their worldy possessions.

And what about the children represented in those 10 families?   They lost too.

The children lost their dads for a season of their life – a season they can never get back again.

And they lost the financial support they needed while their dad was incarcerated.

But hey, the law won.

And THAT is in the best interest of the children.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

  • Sadly, this was my fourth appearance before a family court Judge in four years.  Every time, the Judge has threatened me with jail.  (It is their default threat since the County financially benefits from dads being incarcerated.)  All three times previously, the Judge required me to pay an extraordinary amount of money, within days of that hearing, or a bench warrant would be issued for me.  All three times, I was able to borrow that sum of money to avoid jail time.  As is their custom, the Judge oftentimes will ask the Plaintiff what outcome they would like to see happen.  (I have since learned that Moms hold tremendous influence as to what happens to the “deadbeat dad.”)  In a previous hearing, the Plaintiff did ask the Judge to keep me out of jail since I played an instrumental role in the children’s schedule – taking them to and from school every day (a 2 to 5 hour commitment per day, depending upon the after school activity).  By the time of the hearing mentioned in this post, the Plaintiff had re-married, moved the children out-of-state (again) and I was no longer needed to help with the children’s daily schedule.
  • A note from an eyewitness that day: “I am honored to be a friend of Rod Arters.  I was privileged and pained to be in court with him on the day he describes in this blog.  I can attest that everything he writes about the courtroom experience is true.  I was there.  I was a witness.” – Reverend Michael Holt

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About Rod Arters

As a former youth worker, business owner, school teacher, coach and inmate, Rod has the unique ability to relate to almost anyone in whatever situation they are in. His thought-provoking blog about life, mistakes, faith, hope & grace has been read in over 175 countries. A popular writer & speaker, Rod draws from his deep well of biblical knowledge and personal pain to encourage others along the broken journey to wholeness. He hosts an invitation-only private Facebook group for men (called the Man Cave) and enjoys helping others find Hope in the midst of their painful situations. He currently resides in Columbia, SC.
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25 Responses to I fought the law and the law won

  1. sonworshiper says:

    I certainly don’t like what you experienced. That is terrible, and I wish that hadn’t happened.
    I like how you point out some of the flaws and excesses in our legal system, the wrong focus that goes after someone trying to do the right thing.

    • I’m so saddened by all the unfairness to dads around the world I live in Australia I am a mum I have an ex hubby I would never could never put my children’s dad through this why do the women have all this power when they use it to their advantage because of bitterness women need to educated that this is soooooo wrong on so many levels and the power to be allow it wt I just don’t get I wrote this in hope that people will get it
      To my Ex
      Now that we are travelling along different paths in LIFE and in Love
      I would like to thank you for all that you have contributed to my life.
      I still remember the first time we met though it seems like a life time ago
      That smile the twinkle in your eyes
      All the fun times that we shared filled with laughter, all the firsts of many experiences
      A life time ago
      When our first baby was born, these happy memories still bring a tear to my eyes for this I will always treasure and be grateful for
      Thank you for all that we shared together
      But alas dreams don’t always work out the way we may have thought or would have liked
      but how can I not still care about you to this day for each time I look into our children’s eyes I see us both there
      We mean not to cause hurt nor pain toward each other for this is another first that we share
      I wish and pray that one day we will look at each other and see the blessings that we have shared
      Thank you for our wonderful children the best creation from our union
      Magdalena

      • Rod Arters says:

        Your letter to your ex is beautiful. Thank you for writing it and sharing it on my blog. I have come to learn (and experience first-hand) that the family court (at least in America) is not purely about right/wrong/justice but about money. It’s big business and the court/county/sometimes judges have a financial incentive incarcerating the non-custodial parent. It’s disgusting but part of the fallen world we live in.

  2. Jenn says:

    Awful, just awful, Rod. Not your writing, this experience …… It’s a travesty this happens to thousands in your situation. You’re absolutely right, how does this help the kids, THE most important piece of this gnarly puzzle? I hope your future is bright…. And what can be done to force a change in the system?

    • Rod Arters says:

      Jenn, I’m not sure what can be done right now other than massive amounts of exposure. It’s going to take incarcerated dads and decent moms and articulate children and the retiring of hundreds of old-school judges before this situation is reversed. Kids need support and putting dads in jail isn’t helping them get it. I appreciate you reading and commenting!

  3. Lynn McDermott says:

    Over and over the system proves broken. Attorneys have no conscience. In the long run the people they are supposed to be protecting, winds up hurting. Who knows the ill effects all the fighting has taken on them? The children don’t understand what they have witnessed.. And it can never be explained away.. They were our precious treasures.. To cherish and protect.. And because of our selfish behavior we all have lost … time with people we love.

  4. My son is dealing with a similar matter. It is crystal clear his ex is out to punish him. He pays more than is required of him. He has paid medical bills that are hers not the children’s and what does she do, takes him to court asking for full custody of the kids and visitation with their dad to be @ her discretion only. All she does is cause him anxiety. She is a freeloader who wants someone to take care of her and 3 kids. She found a “sucker” who is in his 40’s never been married, and listens to her every command. My son was paying for the 2 older kids phones, when the oldest was failing classes he put phone service on hold. Well for Christmas the 2 older kids got brand new phones. She talks about working together and both being good parents, not talking to kids about each other but she treats the 16yr. old as a substitute spouse. She shows him text msgs. from dad and asks his opinion on things. He is the babysitter for the other 2 and I know he resents it. I have to but out and watch my son’s pain

  5. Angelique says:

    My family has seen and felt what your going through. My husbands ex who he shares a 10 year old daughter with had him locked up and labeled a dead beat. And it is truly because THEY ARE JEALOUS OR RESENTFUL. My husband and I have three children together the youngest 19 months who have lost thier father for thankfully only 30 days and not six months.but it was 30 days of pure horror. My children hold their father as their rock and best friend same as I do. They were so lost without him it was sickening. She spills lies after lies infront of the judge and the judge believes everyone lie. My husband is an amazing father and he would go without to make sure they have what they need. But the judge doesn’t want to hear anything he has to say. It’s truly sad.

    • Rod Arters says:

      Angelique, I have heard this story too many times to count. It’s truly sad what the courts are doing to well meaning dads. Hopefully the laws and tide will turn in our favor one day. Thanks for reading and commenting here!

  6. Richard Lee says:

    Great article, Rod! I am truly sorry that you have to go through this ridiculous miscarriage of justice. Too often I fear, men are guilty until proved innocent in family court. And while it’s reprehensible that some men (certainly the minority) are derelict in their responsibilities as fathers and *should* be held accountable, I can’t imagine that it’s difficult for the courts to verify accurate information about people’s employment status, income and assets and to render wise and just decisions that actually (rather than nominally) have the children’s best interests in mind.

    • Rod Arters says:

      Richard,
      Thanks for reading and offering your kind remarks. The courts are definitely bent towards the custodial parent, no doubt. I think you hit the nail on the head – there must be a way to verify the man’s story about employment, income, etc. Too many men have indeed lied to the judge thus giving the guys who actually are trying to pay a bad rap in the process.

  7. It’s wrong. It’s backwards. It’s the law. And the law is flawed.

  8. Kimberlee says:

    I absolutely hate that this experience is now a painting in your collection. We always rise with or without the law on our side but rest assure you are not by yourself and never were. Unfortunately it all boiled down to this. For you I am always there.

    • Rod Arters says:

      Thanks Kimberlee!
      This experience, though tough, will ultimately be used for good, not just in my life but in many other’s lives as well. I appreciate your friendship and support!

  9. Jessica says:

    This has been on my “to read” list for far too long, Rod. Good God. There is something really really wrong with our justice system. You are so right: How is putting well-meaning fathers in prison going to help their children? And I suppose I shouldn’t ask what your ex-wife does? My own father is paying my mom a LOT of alimony every month, and SHE is the one who asked for the divorce, and my brother and I are both full grown. She is living with her fiance, and they both have jobs, and yet my dad still has to give her money every month?? I am very sorry for what you have been through. I hope that your work situation turns around soon. All I know is that what you’ve been through can be used for good things in the future — though it may be hard to see now!!! Best to you…

    • Rod Arters says:

      Jessica, thanks for reading! I agree – our justice system is not very just at all sometimes. It makes you crazy! Good to see you here again! Very glad you read my stuff.

      • Jessica says:

        It’s good to see you writing again! I know I have a few posts to catch up on. Keep writing, Rod. You’ve got an important message for the world. 🙂

      • Rod Arters says:

        Jessica, I so appreciate your encouragement! I’ll keep writing, you keep reading. You keep writing too! I’m not the only one with a gift and a message here. 🙂

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  12. Well said and sorry for your trouble. Thank you for writing about the corrupt and counterproductive sham the family courts have become!

  13. howard26 says:

    Being part of father’s rights groups, I can say we are trying to change these laws. The biggest opponents of change are feminists and lawyers.

    • Rod Arters says:

      Howard,
      I appreciate all you are doing to help Dads have a fair fight in family court. It is not in the child’s best interest for their father to be incarcerated or financially destroyed in the process. If I can do anything to assist, let me know. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.

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