A young Waldorf woman who lives on a $115-a-week salary as a bartender was sent to jail by a Prince George's County judge this week for failing to make child support payments to her former husband, whose salary is more than double hers.
"I was shocked," said Linda Jean Miller, 27, whose eight-hour incarceration Monday apparently marked the first time a Washington area woman had been jailed for nonsupport. "I've never been in trouble before . . . I've only had one traffic ticket."
As part of a divorce agreement with her former husband, a carpenter who earns $15,000 a year, Miller was required to pay $30 each week to help him provide for their two children, an 8-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. By the time Miller appeared before Circuit Court Judge Robert Woods this week, she owed her former husband $2,000 in support payments going back to early last year.
Although sheriff's deputies privately assured Miller before she stepped into Woods' Upper Marlboro courtroom that she would avoid jail because she was a woman, the judge decided otherwise.
He ordered her handcuffed and sent to the county detention center until she came up with the support money.
Miller spent the next eight hours in jail -- it was a frightening experience, she said -- until she was able to call her employer to obtain the money. Then she was taken to the courtroom of another circuit judge, Vincent Femia, who ordered her release with this admonition:
"The ERA means rights. But it also means responsibility."
According to Woods, all parents involved in custody cases, even those with salaries as low as Miller's $6,000 a year, are asked to contribute support payments for the adult who takes care of the children.
Miller said she had fallen behind on the support payments to her former husband, William, in part because she did not make much money as a bartender and also because she was upset that she was unable to see her children as often as she liked.
William Miller, who lives with the children in Forestville, said yesterday that he was not sure his former wife should have been sent to jail. But she accepted the incident with equanimity.
"I guess the judge did what he had to do," said Miller. "I did break the law in his eyes. But I don't want to go through that again. I guess I was the first one they could get hold of."