Fathers and Finance: Operation Tough Love

Operation Tough Love

Mike Garey, deputy, Maricopa County, Arizona describes Operation Tough Love. "It's a roundup of child support warrants. There are misdemeanor warrants. There are felony warrants," he says.

"We're arresting those who don't pay child support. We call them deadbeat dads. We do this quite often. Today happens to be Valentine's Day. They give a present to the mothers who don't have their husbands or ex-husbands paying child support," says Joe Arpaio, sheriff, Maricopa County. "This is a big problem. It's an economic problem, it's a taxpayers problem, it is also a sad problem when you have families that are not pitching in to take care of the kids."

Dave Zebro, deputy, Maricopa County explains one of their missions for the day. "We're going to be going after an individual with a superior court non-payment child support warrant, a bond amount of $10,000," he says.

[AD]They head to the man's house. When the man comes to the door, the deputy explains that there's a warrant out for his arrest for missing a court date.

"I literally have no money in my account," the father says.

The deputies handcuff the man and take him into custody.

The operation nets 73 arrests overall. "Every one of these people we arrest go to jail. We put them in our tent. It gets to 148 degrees in the summertime, and we keep them there until they get their child support paid," Sheriff Arpaio says. "It's all about kids. That's what it's all about: take care of your kids."

Helen, a divorced mom, arrives at Tent City. "My ex-husband stopped paying child support, canceled my son's medical insurance, and he has a chronic illness," she says. Holding up a large stack of envelopes, she continues. "I've got to pay all these bills, and he's not helping at all. This is what I'm dealing with," she explains. "Creditors call every day, you know, [asking] ‘Where's the money?' I'm like, ‘Call him.' It's so unfair because he wants to own a restaurant and be Mr. Happy Camper and not be responsible."

Helen shares her thoughts about Tent City. "Watching these deadbeat dads come in is exhilarating. I think they're losers. I think there's a big L on every chest that's sitting there, because they had a child," she says. "What I'm hoping to do is get a warrant for [my ex-husband's] arrest. I think that's the only way to get him to pay attention, is to have Sheriff Joe's posse get him in Tent City. That will scare him. It will be amazing how much money he will come up with when he's sitting in a tent."


Dr. Phil makes clear that Bill is not a deadbeat dad, and in fact, he is currently making voluntary child support payments.

"I've spent two-and-a-half, three years fighting for the right to have my kids just half the time," Bill says. "So after three years of legal fighting, I have them now 50 percent of the time, and I've missed out on three years of parenting. I don't get that time back. I want the right to make that decision, if I so choose."


[AD]Mel Feit, director of the National Center for Men, reacts to the video. "The National Council for Children's Rights estimates there's five-to-six million children who are denied access to their fathers, mostly by mothers who simply disobey court orders for visitation ... I didn't see any of them arrested as violators of court orders," he says. "I'll tell you something. The single most effective thing you can do to collect child support, if that's what you wanted to do, is to enforce orders of visitation, because when men are gainfully employed, and when they see their kids, they pay most, or all, or more of what they owe!"

"You are definitely skewing that," says Lis. She adds that it often takes years for women to obtain court orders to have a man's wages garnished.

"Seventy percent of all the child support that's owed is owed by men making less than $10,000 a year," Mel says. "We are taking poor dads, down on their luck, broke, and we're stomping them into the ground."

Dr. Phil interrupts the heated conversation. "Why is it a stunt for the sheriff's office to go out and enforce court orders?" he asks Mel. "You say that a percentage of these men are unemployed, or they're making less than $10,000 a year. They had the wherewithal to have these children. If those children are sitting at home hungry, then those dads need to be accountable. Why aren't they contacting the court? Why are they no shows? Why do we have to go out and drag them out with warrants?"

"Men get laid off. They lose their jobs. The child support doesn't get adjusted," Mel says.

"Then step up, and face the judge and face your wife. Don't run and hide where they've got to go drag you out like a rat from a gutter," Dr. Phil says.

"The essence of law enforcement is that it has to be even-handed and fair," Mel says.

[AD]"What do you do instead?" Dr. Phil asks. "What do you do to get [a man] to step up and own his responsibility for that child?"

"Collect the support that's actually owed," Mel says. "I'm telling you, I think the best way to do it is to make sure that men see their children."


Lis says that most women don't threaten their exes that they won't see their children. "But you've also got to pay. You can't just skip the state," she says. 

"I think that if these men knew that their money was going to pay for their children, and that they saw their children, you'd see an increase in collection of support," Mel says.

"I assume, Bill, that your position here is that there are different kinds of currency," Dr. Phil says. "You do want to contribute, as you have every step of the way, to your children, financially, in a responsible way, but you also want to provide parental currency, presence and be there, which you can generate by a career change."

Bill agrees. "It seems like there's a cultural bias against divorced dads," he says.

"How does it serve his children's interest to require him to give up his professional dreams?" Mel asks.

"This is all about balance," Dr. Phil says. "If these children are provided for in a safe, secure and nurturing environment by the two parents, whether they're together or they're not, then career choices should certainly be adult issues made by adults. I totally get that." He points out that Bill is a responsible man who has used the court system to establish his rights and made all of his payments. "If that career change can be made and the children still provided for, then it seems that should certainly be his right," he says. "But if he just wanted to say, ‘Well, I've got a great job, but I want to be an artist and go sit in the Alps,' and not make any money, and his kids suffer, then I think that's a violation."

"I agree with that," Bill says.


"Your wife is saying, ‘But I've expected a certain amount of money coming in so I can support the kids. You and I have agreed to that as a unit,'" Lis says to Bill.

"I'm supporting the kids," Bill says.

"What he's saying is he can't make that payment," Dr. Phil says. "If he makes a career change, he's going to have an upturn in parental currency and a downturn in monetary currency. Not to zero, like he said, maybe cut in half."

"Why does his ex-wife have a right to rely on a constant level of support even after a divorce?" Mel asks Lis.

"This is what the unit decided when they got married and when they had children," Lis says.

"We also decided that I would see my kids every day, that I would have a nice house, and there would be someone home taking care of my kids, and that's all gone now," Bill says.