Income lapses or loss of job are costly for any father because of a federal law known as the Bradley Amendment. The amendment, named for former Sen. Bill Bradley, New Jersey Democrat, establishes that once a child-support obligation has been established, it can’t be retroactively reduced or forgiven by a judge. The amendment was enacted in 1986 to stop parents from running up huge child-support debts and getting a sympathetic judge to erase them..
Even now, the unintended consequences of the Bradley Amendment have become clear and a growing number of people are calling for the law to be repealed or at least modified.
According to the reformers, the Bradley Amendment:
* All but ensures that any parent who has a dip in cash flow will be buried under a debt that cannot be legally escaped.
* Helps chase poor men into illegal activities or the underground economy, away from “mainstream” jobs and their children.
Reformers are having some success arguing their case on Capitol Hill, but admit that their battle is uphill: Members of Congress are loath to do anything that might be seen as going soft on child-support enforcement.
Reformers say, they have a powerful incentive for change in the way the Bradley Amendment keeps impoverished fathers trapped in child-support debt. Never mind the fact that the Bradley Amendment is unconstitutional. The Congress isn’t concerned with that reality, nor is any presidential administration. In this case, the ends justify the means. This years’ electorial candidates have simply ignored the problem. They are more concerned with “hot issues”.
The Bradley Amendment has often worked as intended by Congress, by locking in arrears while the system doggedly pursues wily, wealthy parents ducking their obligations, like Hillary Clinton’s brother. However, even he hasn’t paid his tab.
Some big catches have included a New York plastic surgeon who owed $172,000, a professional athlete who owed $76,000 and a yacht company owner who owed $50,000, according to a recent article in Government Executive magazine.
The child-support system is celebrated when it bags deadbeats like these.
But there’s less applause when the system applies the same tough rules and penalties on people like the shaggy-haired man who recently stood in handcuffs before a Maryland Circuit Court judge.
The shaggy-haired man told the judge he lived with his mother and was too disabled to work. He had just spent two weeks in jail for not paying his $10-a-week child support. His total debt was $42,788.
The judge ordered the man to pay $75 a week toward his debt.
But even at that rate, observed a lawyer, “it will take that guy 80 years to pay it off.”
Several child-support advocacy groups say that, despite these pitiful cases, the Bradley Amendment should be maintained because it serves a need.
“We supported the Bradley Amendment when it passed, because it stopped a judge in State B from wiping out [the debt from] an order passed by a judge in State A,” says Geraldine Jensen, president of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support.
“We still need it because 40 percent of cases are interstate, and we still only have 20 percent of people paying” their full support, says Ms. Jensen. Ms. Jensen seems to forget that bad legislation doesn’t work. Keeping that legislation with a 20% success rate is simply bad management with the pretense of doing something good. There is no logic behind the insistence of the process.
Despite the Bradley Amendment’s hold on accrued debts, and a new array of enforcement tactics, the child-support system still collects less than half of what is owed. A lot of this debt is owed by “dead-broke dads,” “turnip dads” or “beat-dead dads,” say scholars and advocacy groups. Naturally, nobody seems to object to calling men by derogatory names. Try calling a woman an equivalent and you are likely to hear about it. In fact, let’s just make up names as we go along.
The concept of “turnip” dads are those who earn less than $130 a week and would be impoverished themselves if they paid support, says Ford Foundation Project Officer Ronald B. Mincy. Mr. Mincy and Elaine J. Sorensen estimate that between 16 percent and 33 percent of fathers are “turnips.”
The concept of “beat-dead dads” are the ones who have child-support orders set so high that “any hiccup in cash flow” quickly results in thousands of dollars of arrears, says Ron Henry, a lawyer active in the Children’ s Rights Council and Men’s Health Network.
“The Bradley amendment [says] once an arrearage is accrued, it exists forever. You cannot waive it. You cannot modify it. Too bad, sucker,” says Mr. Henry, who says the law should be repealed. The child-support system, in theory allows parents to change the amount of their child-support payments. However, the system has all kinds of obstacles built in to prevent such an action. The system hates change and works against such change until a child reaches emancipation.
A major reason many child-support orders are set at high amounts and grow so fast is because they are set without the paying parent in the courtroom, say experts. The Los Angeles Times reported last fall that “roughly 70 percent” of fathers “are not in court when paternity is established and their monthly obligations set.” The same Los Angeles Times story said that local law enforcement records showed that “on average, more than 350 men a month are incorrectly named as fathers.”
The Bradley Amendment ensures that even if the court makes a mistake, “you can never get out of it,” says Mike Ewing, a leader of the Virginia Fatherhood Initiative in Norfolk, who knows several men who are paying support even though DNA tests proved they weren’t the children’s father.
The fun never ends and nobody questions the legality of any of it. You should. The Bradley Amendment and support enforcement are unconstitutional. Politics doesn’t enter into the equation. Check this out and discover the truth for yourself.