Judge: Courts Responsible For Making Sure Deadbeat Parents Pay Up
Posted December 5, 2001
ROBESON COUNTY — Judges say that it is hard to make deadbeat parents pay child support, especially if they do not have a job. The courts' leniency with these cases is forcing parents to battle for their children.
It is a common story. He is a good father, even after the parents split. He pays child support, sends gifts and visits. Then, something happens. He stops working and stops paying.
Since 1997, Cynthia Lewis and her children, Holly and Patrick, have been on their own.
Working full-time at a doctor's office in Raleigh and being a single parent is not easy for Lewis. What makes it harder is that she gets no child support from her ex-husband, Greg Lewis.
"It keeps me up at night. It's very disheartening," she said.
According to Lewis, Greg owes her more than $13,000 in child support.
"It's pretty much that we're divorced and he's divorced from the children and his responsibility as well," she said.
Court papers show that Greg had a habit of not showing up for court. He was arrested twice for failing to appear in court. In both instances, judges released him without making him pay.
Earlier this year, it took Sheriff's deputies four months to find and arrest Greg. WRAL had no problem tracking him down at his mother's home in Robeson County.
Greg promised to meet WRAL for an interview. Four hours after promising to meet, he never showed up. That wait is nothing compared to the years that Cynthia said she has waited for child support payments from Greg.
"To be totally honest with you, I'd like to come home and tell the kids that, 'Dad has come through for you guys, Dad has come through for us,'" she said.
"Somebody has to get that person's attention. If you continue to let them out with no job, everybody is going to come into court and say 'I don't have a job, I can't work,'" said Judge Kristin Ruth.
The judge said that she has heard just about every excuse. Ruth believes that ultimately, the buck stops at the bench.
"I'm willing to work with anybody as long as they're putting forth the effort. What you find is that effort is not happening for the majority of the people that are in there saying 'I don't have a job,'" said Ruth.
"It's a very redundant process and I really question the authority at this point," said Lewis.
On the day Greg was supposed to appear in court again, his former wife arrived with trepidation and little hope.
"You go to court and you're sitting there and your heart is pounding. Every time the door opens you think, 'This is it,' and it never happens," she said.
This time, Greg showed up and told the judge that he had not been working because he was caring for an injured cousin and his sick mother.
"I have a job now. I have to do the best I can at working out the bill, which is not $13,000," he said in court.
Greg told the judge that he just got the job and was not prepared to pay any child support.
"I did not bring any money. As far as me working, I just started to work last Tuesday," he said.
The judge decided to end Lewis' losing streak.
"You have come into court seven times since January and not one dime of child support has been given to those children," said Ruth. "You're going to have to have that $200 that you promised to pay back in May before you're going to get out of this courthouse and this jailhouse."
Greg said he could not pay and was taken into custody. The victory was a small, but important one for Lewis.
"I'm glad to see, glad to know that there is a judge out there that is holding the standards in place -- that child support in North Carolina does matter," she said.
Greg paid $200 and was released from jail the same day. He is still employed, and if all goes well, the county will soon begin deducting child support directly from his paycheck.