When Norman Bennett got out of prison, he was supposed to become a productive member of society.
This wasn’t what anyone had in mind.
Bennett became a reproductive citizen: At age 31, he has at least 13 kids by 11 women.
That’s a tentative tally, because various court records seem to indicate that the Omaha man may have 15 kids by 13 women. Or more.
That court officials weren’t sure how many children he has speaks to the jaw-dropping nature of his case.
So does this: Bennett owes at least $50,000 in child support.
Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk gave Bennett until Jan. 29 to start paying down on his debt with a $500 deposit. Either he pays or he goes to jail for 90 days, the judge ruled.
The judge gave Bennett a look of consternation and a simple declaration.
“This is not cool,” Polk said, eyeballing Bennett.
Turns out, Bennett isn’t even Omaha’s most prolific procreator.
Attorney Meagan Spomer, who works in child-support enforcement, told Polk that she has heard of a deadbeat dad with 23 kids by 15 women.
At that, Polk looked incredulous.
Those gathered in Polk’s courtroom pondered the societal consequences of a man fathering that many children by that many women. How do those children succeed? What impact can Bennett possibly have on their upbringing?
Polk contemplated, but stopped short of asking, another question: Could Bennett name all of his children?
Some judges have required deadbeat dads to name each child. Any slip-ups, and certain judges will send dads to jail on the spot.
By law, child-support cases are supposed to stop short of becoming a sort of punitive paternity court. High court rulings have essentially outlawed the concept of a debtor’s prison — where defendants go to jail simply because they can’t pay down their financial obligations such as child support.
The Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled that any jail time in child-support cases should be coercive — an attempt to force the dad to chip away at whatever he owes.
One important note: Whether Bennett pays up or not, the women he impregnated are receiving child support through the welfare program formerly known as Aid to Dependent Children.
In other words, state and federal taxpayers are partly footing the bill for Bennett’s brood.
In turn, the State of Nebraska seeks reimbursement from fathers, such as Bennett, who have impregnated the women now receiving welfare.
Another note: Bennett’s payments are on the low end — ranging from $50 to $72 per child per month. Multiply those amounts by more than a dozen children, add in interest — and Bennett probably will never come close to paying what he owes.
The State of Nebraska can garnish wages to recoup taxpayers’ money. However, the dad needs a paycheck before that can happen. And in this case, Bennett and his attorney told the judge that, as a felon with a gun conviction, he has struggled to find steady work.
Bennett told the judge he works in construction but has been laid off as work tapers off in the winter. He said he recently applied for a job at Omaha’s airport but hadn’t heard back.
Beyond that, Bennett had little to say.
He simply sat with his head down as Polk filled out jail orders. Turns out, filling out a dozen or so jail orders takes considerable time.
The clock was ticking; about 30 minutes passed before Polk finished the final order.
Now, another clock is ticking. Bennett has one month left. Next time he returns to court, he either pays, or he stays.
“The court is going to give you an opportunity to pay some and, if you don’t pay, you’re going to jail,” Polk told Bennett. “Because this is not cool.”