Every week sheriffs’ deputies round up spouses who have failed to pay child support, but a select few have managed to avoid being arrested.
Richard Huffman is one of them.
After years of ignoring court orders and subpoenas, he disappeared for good, abandoning his wife and son and amassing such an enormous debt that he wound up on the sheriff’s office 10 most wanted child support scofflaw list.
“He’s never paid me a dime in over 11 years, and he’s in arrears of over $110,00,” Monica Bonaroti said.
She says family court recently sent her a form calling her ex-husband’s debt uncollectable. Even though she put a big “x” next to the line saying she disagreed, two months later she received a copy of a court order reducing his debt to zero.
“I thought the law was well, ‘If you can’t pay, you we’re going to get a job and assume the responsibly for this child,’ not let you off the hook.”
It’s called rule 1910 — instituted by the state Supreme Court to clean up a mountain of support orders which the court believes are unenforceable. Family court administrator Patrick Quinn say dunning notices are being sent to former spouses who are jobless, homeless or indigent.
Quinn says, “What happens is it’s a drain on the court system if you have literally thousand of cases that have no chance of ever collecting support for the foreseeable future.”
But Bonaroti says it’s the court’s job to seek justice.
“It’s a disgrace that a deadbeat dad who has not paid a dime of over $110,000 is being rewarded,” she said.
Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen, for one, agrees with Bonaroti. Mullen says because of the court order wiping out Huffman’s debt — he had to take Huffman off the most wanted list since he is no longer one of the top 10 deadbeats — and the general public will no longer be an aid in tracking him down.
“It’s our opinion here, and it’s always been our opinion that if you father children it’s your responsibility to take care of them financially.” Mullen said. “That did not happen here.”
To Quinn, it’s a matter of perception. He says the debt in these cases will remain zero until the spouse can be found and ability to pay can be established. There’s still a warrant out for Huffman’s arrest, and Quinn says the courts still want to bring him to justice.
“We’re not closing case. It’s still on the system. We’re tracking to see if we can find the person, find assets, find a bank account.”
Bonaroti has her point of view.
“I feel I worked enough over these 11 years and he just gets to walk away. It’s not right.”