Days after Father’s Day, Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes announced the arrest of 27 parents for past-due child support payments. The arrests came during an international pandemic that has landed millions out of work and disrupted the lives of children more than enough already. Worse? A similar operation held months earlier led to the arrest of a father who was paying child support on-time.
The Claims of Operation Pay Up
Operation Pay Up only targets the worst of the worst, according to the department’s media release:
“This operation is directed at parents who have been to court and have been ordered to pay child support, have disobeyed the judge’s order by failing to pay, and then have failed to appear in court to offer any good reason why they have not paid for their children’s needs.”
It’s easy for the public to get behind when the parents targeted seem to be willfully avoiding their responsibilities. But how does that hold up to reality? According to one family, it’s a total fabrication.
Andrew Hendrix was paying child support automatically from each of his checks when he was arrested for non-payment and forced to cough up $4,000 – in cash – to avoid spending time in jail. Hendrix lives with a partner and their three children but pays $1,100 a month in support for twins he’s never been allowed to meet in person.
With the burden of child support, Hendrix can’t save enough to hire an attorney to secure his parenting rights — or fight bogus claims in court. His partner, Emily, responded to a recent post on the department’s Facebook page regarding the raids.
“Chip , what are you going to do about child support not sending out letters to aware the parents of the court dates ? And how is it right that you can arrest a individual for a court date they “missed” 2-4 years ago and have been to court and also get child support taken out weekly of their checks ? Doesn’t seem right to me,” she posted.
We reached out to Emily for more details. She said the child support department did not notify them of a court date and does not have a missed date on record. They could not explain why he owed $4,000 in arrears.
“Even the sheriff was unsure why he had a warrant because we immediately showed him his check stubs for over the year where his payments have been coming out,” she said. “We were forced to pay it or … let him sit in jail.”
The burden put the family’s finances in dire straits. Between caring for his family, paying child support, and paying the mystery debt – accepted only in cash – there was no room in the budget for hiring a lawyer to fight things. The experience has had a devastating impact on the family’s finances.
“We can’t even afford food on our table and can’t get help from the state,” the woman said. The emotional effects on her husband have also been tough to handle. “He was emotionally distraught. He had his face and name dragged through the mud… Chip made it seem as if he don’t pay.”
It’s the same old story we hear time and again from men who are painted as deadbeats while contributing a significant amount of money each month to support their children.
When asked, Sheriff Hughes declined to comment on changes he’d made to how the operation was run. He also had nothing to say about plans to enforce parenting orders. We’re in the middle of a pandemic after all.