Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens reviews a new Arizona measure posting names and photos of “deadbeat dads” on Twitter.
Should Massachusetts publicize so-called “deadbeat parents” who fail to pay their child support online? Recent news coverage has focused on a controversial Arizona program publicizing parents who fall significantly behind on court-ordered child support on Twitter. During his state of the state address on Monday, January 18, 2016, Arizona Governor Doug Dacey (R), issued a warning to the state’s so-called “deadbeat parents”.
“For too long, you’ve been able to remain anonymous,” Dacey said, “able to skirt your financial and legal responsibilities with no shame.” A few hours after Dacey’s speech, Arizona posted its first tweet featuring a man who owed $170,000 in back child support. Two more delinquent parents were featured in tweets soon after. A state spokesman told CNN that the state planned “to ‘highlight’ a total of 421 non-custodial parents who have accrued heavy debts over the past five years” using Twitter.
The Arizona law has generated controversy for obvious reasons, ranging from privacy concerns to fears over vigilante justice. However, shaming deadbeat parents online is nothing new. Arizona has been posting the names and photos of delinquent parent on is website since 1999. By posting the names and photos of delinquent parents on Twitter, however, the state seems to be inviting the type of profane comments and harsh, public ridicule that Twitter has become known for.
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Notably, Massachusetts has not published the names or photos of deadbeat parents since 2009, when the state quietly shuttered its “most wanted poster” program for delinquent parents. In 2012, Laurie McGrath of the state Department of Revenue’s Child Support Enforcement Division, told the Brockton Enterprise that Massachusetts discontinued the most wanted poster program due to several technical challenges:
The process of making the poster was “labor intensive,” said McGrath, because Child Support Enforcement workers had to check with each custodial parent to make sure they were comfortable with photos and the full name of the delinquent parent being published and widely distributed. Because children are involved, there were times when the custodial parent didn’t want to be involved, even if they were owed a substantial amount of money by the deadbeat father or mother.
Because the amount of child support owed changes so frequently, McGrath added, it became difficult to get the poster approved and sent out for printing. Sometimes a parent would make a payment at the last minute, she said, and out of fairness they’d have to take the name off the poster and redo it.
The reasons cited by McGrath for the program’s cancellation seem a bit dubious in today’s world instant digital updates. For example, the changing amounts owed by deadbeat parents could easily be updated in real-time if the names and amounts owed were published online, rather than through an old media printed “poster”. The concerns over custodial parents who don’t want the non-paying parent’s delinquency publicized online also seem easily addressed. The state could easily limit publicity to cases where the custodial parent provided consent through their online “Case Manager” system with DOR.
The instant nature of Twitter – as well as its associations with cyberbullying and online abuse – make Arizona’s program controversial. However, with more than twenty states now posting the names and photos of the worst deadbeat parents online, the absence of any program in Massachusetts for publicizing deadbeat parents seems increasingly outdated. Arizona’s decision to publicize more than 400 delinquent parents via Twitter seems excessive, but the total information blackout in Massachusetts regarding deadbeat parents strikes me as the opposite extreme.
About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.
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