A MOM: Sean Gentile advocates making Florida’s child support laws tougher.

Choice: Support child or be felon

Activists request

tougher penalty for refusal to pay



Parents in Florida who willfully refuse to pay child support can have their wages garnished, tax refunds intercepted, bank accounts frozen or driver's license suspended.

They can be held in civil contempt or charged with a misdemeanor.

But that isn't enough for some activists, legislators and the Florida Department of Revenue.

They want a law that would make it a felony to withhold financial support from a child purposefully.

This legislative session, state Sens. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, and Jim Home, R-Orange Park, will sponsor a bill that gives Florida's child support laws more teeth. They are wholeheartedly backed by the Department of Revenue, which oversees the state's child support system.

"We think that the creation of this penalty would create a meaningful deterrent for those parents who try to ignore their most important responsibility-- providing for their children," said Dave Bruns, department spokesman.

If passed, the law would make % a third-degree felony to withhold at least $5.000 in child support for more than a year. The crime would be punishable by up to five years in

Stricter support laws urged prison and a $5,000 -fine. It would not apply to people who don't have the means to pay.

'If you simply don't have the money, and if you're making a good-faith effort to find work, it's not something you'd be jailed for, said Michael Dolce, Campbell’s legislative assistant. " ...It provides an additional incentive for truly bad eggs."

Charging parents who fail to pay child support with a felony has gained national attention in recent years, with states such as Massachusetts and Michigan grabbing onto the idea.

And so far, it appears to be working, Dolce said.

Michigan has received 669 referrals to prosecute deadbeat parents since its law went into effect in 1998, Dolce said. As of last November, the state was investigating 184 cases and had charged 18 people with felonies.

Since 1996, Massachusetts has arrested 217 parents for refusing to pay child support.

Rut rather than creating more work for the criminal-justice system, Dolce said, the law's main goal is to establish fear among non-

supporting parents. A felony record trails people for life, affecting both their personal relationships and work

"This is the type of statute where the threat is the real tool," he said.

In Massachusetts, for example, child support officials have collected an additional 53 million from non-custodial parents frightened into paying after being told they'll be prosecuted.

That's what Sean Gentile likes to hear. Gentile, of Fort Lauderdale and the mother of three children, has met with the head of the state Department of Revenue, Broward County's Chief Judge Dale Ross and numerous legislators in an attempt to get something done to speed up the state's sluggish system.

Her aggressive approach started out as a personal campaign to get child support for her youngest child, 2-year-old Rose. Since then, it has become her life's

Work. Criminalizing the nonpayment of support shows parents and the public just how important children are, Gentile said.

'I think it would just be an impetus to say, 'Look, I know a felony is here so I want to just do what I'm supposed to do,' " she said. "It's going to make them make a behavioral change."

Shana Gruskin can be reached at

Sgruskin@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6537.




State Senators Jim Horns and Walter Campbell Jr., are proposing legislation and filing shortly, a bill which will turn divorced and unwed fathers into felons.

Call the Office of Legislative Services in Tallahassee at 1-800-342-1827 to receive a copy of the bill.

This bill will only increase the damage to divorced and unwed fathers in Florida, and, further discourage them from having a real relationship with their children. More legislation denigrating divorced and unwed fathers is invidious and destructive.

Senator Campbell's telephone numbers are:

Tallahassee: (850) 487-5094

Tamarac: (954) 346-2813


10094 Mcnab Rd.

Tamarac, Fla. 33321

308 Senate Office Building

404 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, Fla. 32399-1100

Senator Jim Horne's telephone numbers are:

Tallahassee: (850) 487-5027

District Office: (904) 573-4900


2301 Park Avenue, Suite 403

Orange Park, Fla. 32073

214 Senate Office Building

404 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, Fla. 32399-1100


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