Thousands of Shelby County fathers skipping out on child support - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Thousands of Shelby County fathers skipping out on child support

By Lori Brown - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - It's a list you don't want to be on: deadbeat dads ducking their legal responsibility to pay child support.  In Shelby County, deadbeat dads number in the thousands, and while some parents may feel like they're sticking it to their ex, it's the children who are the real victims.

Recently, Action News 5 spoke to Kelli Halsell and her mother, Sharon.  Kelli wrote an essay for school that speaks about how, through his absence, her father helped shape her life.  

"I then experienced what no child should have to go through: abandonment," she read from the essay.

Halsell's parents divorced when she was ten.  Afterward, her father disappeared, leaving behind an emotional and financial deficit.  According to Sharon, her ex-husband owes her seven years worth of child support for three children, in the amount of $87,000.

"They send out certified mail that's returned unsigned," she said. "It's just a nowhere road."

Halsell is not alone in her battle for child support.  In Shelby County, only 50 percent of the child support owed is paid. Across Tennessee, the average is virtually the same.

In fact, the problem is so widespread that Action News 5 found Halsell while looking for a different deadbeat dad, Richard McWain.  As of February 2010, McWain owed nearly $211,000 in child support.

Halsell bought her house from McWain and his new wife.  She had no idea they owed so much child support.

"They were in a hurry to go," Halsell said. "And head to Europe."

In her own battle, Halsell feels like the system is failing her.

"If I'm able to Google and find out where he's working, why can't they do that?" she asked.

Halsell says she saw her ex-husband comment on a music blog.  She says he named the company he works for.  She immediately gave that information to her case-worker.

"So we pulled it up, and one of the headquarters is in Texas, and she called them and they said he's not working there.  So she says, 'Sorry, that's all I can do,'" Halsell said.

The state managed to intercept a check for $849 six months ago, but  Child Support Services in Tennessee won't reveal where the money came from.  It is the only child support Halsell's ever received.

"They had a good address with that check I had in May," she said. "Why couldn't they have served him? Why couldn't they have arrested him?"

Shelby County's Child Support Services was recently handed over to a private company, Maximus.  Maximus' Program Administrator, Frenchell White Phipps, said she is not allowed to discuss this specific case.

"What becomes frustrating is when we don't have enough information to pursue a case," Phipps said.

She urges parents like Sharon Halsell to not loose heart.

"There is going to be a time where we will be able to address that issue with that individual, however, it may not be fast enough for her," Phipps said. "But she can't give up because this is for her child or children."

Halsell, an employed, single mother, has not given up, something her daughter admires.

"She's my hero, and I wish to become as strong as her one day," Kelli said. "This I believe, that strength is something that isn't just how much you can carry physically, but something you can't always see."

The biggest deadbeat dad in Shelby County owed more than $1.2 million in child support as of February of this year.  There are 5,000 outstanding warrants for parents who aren't paying up in Shelby County.

According to Chip Washington, spokesperson for the Shelby County Sheriff's Department, "They are not actively sought with the manpower shortage and extremely high workload, but if we are aware of a 'person of interest' and they are stopped for something else, then we will pursue them."

To see a list of the top 50 deadbeat dads in Shelby County, and what they owe, click here.

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