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Unconscionable Debt Collection Practices of Child Support Enforcement

by Giovanni LoPresti

As an American Citizen, you want to believe that any person can rely upon judicial fairness in a child support proceeding. The outrageous child support law on the books today is designed to treat all child support debtors like a piece of garbage. The wisdom of common sense, respect, judicial fairness, doesn’t exist under the present law. The mastermind of this unconscionable child support enforcement law was created by former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

His Senate Bill modified U.S. Code Title IV-D (42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(9)(c)) which requires state courts to prohibit retroactive reduction of child support obligations. The law abolished the statute of limitations, created a civil judgment by operation of law on all child support debtors, allows adverse credit reporting, allows a cost of living adjustment every two years, allows for review of child support orders every 3 years, without a showing of substantial change in circumstance, allows for a suspension of drivers licenses, passports, professional licenses, income withholding, tax intercepts, unemployment & workman compensation intercepts, requires citizen to provide their social security numbers, requires employers to utilize new hire directory to see if a child support debt is owed, provides locator services, requires health care coverage to be provided by either or both parents, and requires a debtor citizen to show proof of substantial change in circumstances necessary in request for review outside 3-year cycle.

I would like to focus on the requirement of proof of substantial change in circumstances necessary in requesting a review of child support outside 3-year cycle. The law offers no guidance whatsoever on what constitutes a substantial chance in circumstances. Similarly, the Office of Child Support Enforcement offers no guidance either. With no guidance whatsoever, the law requires payments to be maintained without regard of a citizen’s ability to pay.

In my view, common sense and judicial fairness would dictate that an injury, illness, loss of employment at no fault of a citizen, whether temporary or not, would constitute a substantial change in financial circumstances? Nonetheless, family court judges throughout the United States have consistently rejected a child support debtor’s request for child support reduction under these circumstances. I asked myself over and over again, why are family court judges are so mean and lack understanding and compassion? The answer to this question is going to shock you.

Under the present law, there is a presumption that child support award is correct and a citizen debtor has the ability to pay or find similar work at the same rate of pay, even if you’re not making the same amount of money. Put simply, Congress has provided family court judges physic abilities to determine a citizen earning capabilities. I find this horrifying, but family court judges find no shame in it. I have heard endless horror stories of citizens whose financial circumstances changed, and denied judicial fairness in family court. Unfortunately, this is what will likely happen if your financial circumstances change:

1. Unemployment or workmen compensation garnished at the full amount.
2. Your ability to support yourself doesn’t matter.
3. Fall behind at no fault of your own, driver’s license, professional license, passport
revoked.
4. Your credit will be destroyed.
5. You can expect armed law enforcement showing up and putting you in county jail
for failure to pay child support.
6. Tax refund intercepted.

WHY A CHILD SUPPORT DEBTORS ARE DENIED JUDICIAL FAIRNESS
WHEN FINANCIAL CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE

My researched has revealed that most Americans are unaware that our federal government reimburses States 66% of collection cost expended for child support enforcement, see Title IV under the Social Security Act. This doesn’t bother me, but the additional incentive dollars the States receive to treat citizens like garbage does. Under Title IV:

States receive additional incentive dollars for:

a. paternity establishment
b. order establishment
c. collection on current support cases
d. cases paying towards arrears
e. cost effectiveness
f. performance

baby moneySo regardless of a child support debtors changed financial circumstances, a family court judge will routinely deny any request for a reduction or, even a temporary reduction. The unfortunate truth, family court judges armed with physic abilities to determine a citizen’s earning abilities, don’t care. They are the front line in defending the State’s performance incentives. A family court judge will bully a citizen by denying any type of relief sought, suspend your driver’s license, professional license, passport, may incarcerate you for failure to pay child support without a finding of ability to pay, intercept your tax return, garnish your unemployment or workman’s compensation, destroy your credit, and your home State will receive additional incentive dollars from our federal government for doing this to you. This is not only insane, cruel, unconscionable, but definitely creates an appearance of impropriety.

States routinely incarcerate child support debtors, without any determination that they have the ability to pay. Our States actually get paid additional incentive dollars from our federal government for incarnating a child support debtor. The States routinely tell citizens that they are court ordered to pay child support and find them in civil contempt. However, the court order is also a civil judgment by operation of law. Did you ever hear of any situation whereby any judge would allow any person to have a slice a cake and eat it too? For example, if you obtained a civil judgment against me, you can’t suspend my passport, driver’s license, professional license, intercept my tax return, garnish my unemployment or disability check, hold me in contempt, and jail me for failure to pay a debt. Special thanks to our federal government, state government are permitted to have a slice of cake and eat it too.

burning the constitutionThe last time I checked, the 14th Amendment prohibits States from denying any person within its territory the equal protection of the laws. The federal government must do the same, but this is also required by the 5th Amendment Due Process Clause. All citizens should be entitled to judicial fairness in any court proceeding. I urge all citizens to write their elected officials and asked them to repeal this unconscionable law. Alternatively, send your elected official a strong message and vote them out of office. A debtor citizen cannot rely upon judicial fairness in a family court proceeding, if a State has a financial interest in maintaining additional incentives dollars.

Arizona Child Support Lien Screwup Infuriates Thousands

old-techThousands of Arizona residents that paid off their child support debt continued to be marked as subject to property liens because of a state Department of Economic Security screwup. The ongoing furor finally drove the agency to do something about the problem, according to insiders. Dozens of people had to be hired to help figure it out. Officials say the problem is “almost fixed.”

When asked about the snafu, DES officials acknowledged that a lengthy review of closed, past-due child support cases completed last year showed that 8,241 people should have had their liens removed. The agency also determined that 14,016 open child support cases need to be audited for liens that should be released; that review will occur sometime this year.

court orderThe state has about 321,000 active child support cases, with the state and county splitting them roughly in half. Besides typical cases, the state automatically receives cases that involve federally assisted foster care, as well as recipients of Medicaid  or welfare. Under previous rules, if someone ordered to pay child support were to fall more than two months behind, an administrative lien would be placed on all current and future property they own. (The state recently changed that to four months.) It is claimed that the lien prevents the person from selling the property, typically a home, until the past-due payments are satisfied. That isn’t exactly true as long as the payment is made before the house closes. If a parent who paid the past-due amount attempts to buy or sell and home and finds that a lien hasn’t been released, a title or mortgage company can submit a request to DES’ Division of Child Support Services, which sends the proper information to the companies “within 48 hours.”

The problem was that “liens were not properly tracked and documented,” according to information provided by Tasya Peterson, DES spokeswoman. Computer hardware from the 1980s at the agency, including a mainframe ATLAS system, “allows for user entry errors.”

homelessAt terminals with green monochrome monitors, workers over the years tracked only court-ordered liens in the archaic computer system, then later switched to tracking both court-ordered and the DES administrative liens, confusing the process. The old system could only store a few cases for a limited time so older cases were constantly archived on magnetic tape.

The agency discovered the source of the problem in April 2013 and hired the Child Support Lien Network to complete the review. While that project took two years, the audit of the 14,016 open cases should only take about two or three months.

“The Department believes its response regarding this issue has not resulted in delay or harm for the obligated parent,” she wrote. “A lien that has not been released does not affect the obligated parent’s credit report as liens are not reported, only balances.”

Of course, no parents were interviewed. This article is just how “the state officials” feel about the matter. Parents could be living in a car or on the street for all they care – as long as “officials” can justify how “the state” feels.

Maryland, Prison & Unrealistic Child Support

As lawmakers meet in Annapolis this month to examine possible reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, we hope they will take a hard look at a related issue as well: The plight of inmates who fall behind on their court-ordered child-support payments, which continue to accumulate while they’re behind bars and which leave them with crushing debts they cannot possibly pay off when they are eventually released. [“American Poverty: An American Criminal Subclass“}

That’s because inmates who are ordered by the courts to make child support payments that seem reasonable when they’re working lose those incomes — but not their obligation to pay — while they are incarcerated. The amounts in arrears can climb into the tens of thousands of dollars, and because these convicts emerge from prison saddled with a criminal record, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for them to find a job that allows them to pay off what they owe. All too easily, their involvement with the state’s child-support enforcement authorities can leave them with a lifetime of indebtedness.

The consequences for them and their children can be devastating. Sixty-five percent of the inmates in Maryland’s prisons are parents, and most of them want to participate in some way in their children’s upbringing. When they can’t, it’s likely to not only alienate them from their partners and children but also to compound the problems they face finding a job, getting an education and avoiding returning to a life of crime.

Some inmates come out of prison so overwhelmed by accumulated debt and shamed by their inability to pay that they are actually discouraged from contacting their families. Others feel the only way to meet their obligations is by selling the drugs that got them incarcerated in the first place. Both are inimical to policies aimed at enlisting the support of families in the re-entry process.

The federal government and some states, including Maryland, have explored pilot re-entry programs that match up newly released inmates with service providers, such as the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, that offer temporary housing as well as job training and employment counseling. But such programs are small compared to the need. States must begin focusing on preparing incarcerated parents for release earlier and helping them navigate child-support issues so they don’t emerge from prison thousands of dollars in arrears with little prospect of ever paying such sums off.

In Maryland, custodial parents are entitled to collect child support even when the non-custodial parent is incarcerated. If an inmate can’t pay, and if the family is eligible for public assistance, the state pays an equivalent amount to the custodial parent, then seeks to recover the funds upon the incarcerated parent’s release.

Under a law passed in 2012, state authorities can temporarily reduce or suspend inmates’ financial obligations while they’re in prison. But they can’t alter the terms of a child support order issued by the courts to reflect an inmate’s reduced earning capacity while locked up, nor can they forgive accumulated debt that is owed directly to a custodial parent rather than to the state. [“Unemployment, Child Support & Bradley Law“; “Bradley Law and Real Justice“; “The Bradley Amendment Child Support Mess“; “New Legal Research Available on Bradley Amendment“]

Nevertheless, Maryland could significantly ease inmates’ re-entry into society if its laws allowed child support officials to modify child support orders to reflect inmates’ actual earning power on release. The state already has a debt abatement program that allows inmates have their cumulative debt reduced by half if they make their support payments on time for 12 straight months; if they continue doing so for 12 more months the state can forgive entire amount remaining in arrears.

That represents progress, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that most recently incarcerated parents still won’t earn enough to make regular payments at the same level that was set based on their earning power before they went to prison. So they fall behind on their payments again and the vicious cycle of debt accumulation resumes.

Lawmakers could address this problem by authorizing The Department of Human Resources to modify court-ordered child support payments to make them more accurately reflect the current earning power of recently released inmates. That simple change would allow many more inmates to pay off what they owe the state as reimbursement for public assistance to their families, but leave undisturbed payments owed directly to a non-custodial parent. Moreover, it would cost the state relatively little to forgive debts that, in any case, stood very little chance of ever being collected.

Critics may charge that such a plan amounts to a free ride for deadbeat dads and moms. It isn’t. Rather, it’s simply a recognition that most people in Maryland’s prisons are poor and that saddling them with mountains of debt for unpaid child support is counterproductive. Nationwide, four out of 10 single parents live below the poverty line. Nobody’s is going to get rich because of a change in the law that acknowledges that reality. It’s in everyone’s interest to bring parents recently released from prison out of the shadows so they can begin to fulfill their obligations to their families and their communities.

from the Baltimore Sun

Texas Secretly Pushing Child Support on County Offices

Wichita County Tax Collector/Assessor Tommy Smyth said more unfunded mandates pushed onto his office may be a recipe for disaster.

Smyth spoke at the Wichita County Commissioners meeting to provide information about a request to fill a position for a deputy collector in his office.

In the past 12 months, he said, while already wrangling changes with the one sticker-two step program for vehicle registration and inspection, tax offices were informed by the state that beginning in March, the office must deny services to people who owe back child support. [“American Poverty: An American Criminal Subclass“, “Unemployment, Child Support & Bradley Law“, “Bradley Law and Real Justice“]

Smyth said there was also talk that two more mandates might be added in the next six months.

“We had a conference in June in Lubbock and there was no mention of what was going to be dropped on us in November in San Marcos,” Smyth told the court.

“You can only push bureaucracy so far to a certain point, and then something has to be compromised,” he said, likening the situation to an employee at a restaurant who was running a register, taking orders, cooking and cleaning.

In that situation the business’ service, food and reputation could be compromised, he said.

“It’s the same thing in county government, it’s the same thing. We’re trying to provide optimum services to the citizens of Wichita County. I think we do a Cracker Jack job of it. We’ve got Cracker Jack staff, but we’re not in control,” Smyth said.

Several problems arise from the tax offices serving as a filter for child support enforcement, he said.

Smyth noted that if the state attorney general’s office had been successful in finding these people delinquent on child support, the people would have been notified already instead of pushing it onto the tax offices.

“More than likely when that somebody walks up to our window and one of our deputies says, ‘Sir/madam, we cannot do your transaction.’ They bought a $58,000 pickup, but can’t do tax and license on it, it’s going to get very contentious,” Smyth said.

Another problem could be the merging of another database and software download.

In March the office merged with the Department of Public Safety’s system.

Smyth said they have run into situations at times with the one sticker-two step system where the other entity did not do a download of their software and the system was not up to date.

He gave a possible example of someone who paid child support on a Friday, then comes in Monday to register vehicle, but the system was not up to date in showing the individual’s payment.

“When that individual comes in our office, we have to decline them. Well, the minute you decline somebody, you inherit a very contentious situation,” he said.

“The call volume that we associate with this child support, I can’t even get my arms around it. I mean, I have no idea,” Smyth said of the calls and complaints the tax office could receive about the new mandate.

from the Wichita Falls Times Record

Tennessee Struggles With Child Support Debt

justice and moneyMothers who make no effort to identify father of their children could have a cap on the number of years in which they can go back and seek child support.

“We’re asking the legislature to consider allowing a law that says you can’t go back any more than five years,” 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson said.

Johnson said his office collected $8.173 million in child support during the 2014-15 fiscal year and led the state in establishing orders in cases.

An inability to pay is a problem many defendants run into, according to Johnson.

“What’s happening is these dads, usually dads, sometimes mothers, owe tens of thousands of dollars in child support going back 18 years at some point,” Johnson said. “They’ll never get it paid.”

To convey his point, Johnson’s office looked at the number of inmates in the Roane County Jail with child support issues as of Dec. 1.

Two were in custody on a child support hold only, and another 10 were in jail with criminal and child support holds.

The total child support arrearages for those 12 inmates was $343,210.54.

“Right now, you place a child support amount from birth until 18,” Johnson said. “In a lot of cases, most of these are not typically just people coming out of divorce with kids. They are people who have had kids out of wedlock, which is a common thing.”

Johnson’s office handles cases free of charge in Magistrate Charles Crass’ court for custodial parents who have either a divorce decree or court order requiring someone to pay child support.

“The court and the state can’t relieve you of paying the child support,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be there forever. Judge Crass just can’t say well that’s OK, don’t worry about that $20,000.”

A law that puts a cap on the number of years a person can go back to seek child support could force parents to take advantage of their rights sooner.

“You’ve got to immediately file something for paternity and get that going and get that person identified,” Johnson said. “You can’t wait until right before the child is about to turn 18 and go back and say, ‘hey, John Doe, you’re the father of my child, let’s have a DNA test and prove it, and now you’re owing 18 years of child support you didn’t know about’.”

The next session of the Tennessee General Assembly starts in January.

“That’s something the legislature is going to look at,” Johnson said.

If that happens, Johnson said it could also cause the legislature to look at some of the problems the court system is having with defendants who can’t pay their fines and court costs in criminal cases.

original article at Roane County News

While states struggle with their child support issues, the federal government takes support from any available source, including social security and tax offices. Men continue to be cut down by unconstitutional and cruel law like the Bradley Amendment, which prohibits any retroactive change in child support.

Data Shows NJ Child Support Administrators Lied To Lawmakers About Effectiveness Of Collections

child support shacklesA law suit challenging New Jersey’s automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for child support arrears says that the Division of Family Development misled lawmakers to convince them that the program is a success.

The Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development (DFD) administers the child support computer system. In reports to the Legislature from 2006-08, the DFD said an average of $33 million in additional child support was collected annually under a program which provides for automatic suspensions of driver’s licenses. They said, on average, they collected of $1,737 per suspension.

However, changes to the child support computer system which allowed for more accurate tracking, show that from 2010 through 2014 the state averaged each year about 20,000 suspensions and collected only $5.3 million or an average of $259 per license suspension, according to reports obtained through discovery.

Rather than reconciling the 600% inflation of the numbers, annual reports on the progress of the license suspension program mysteriously stopped. From 2009 through 2013 no reports exist and in 2014 the drastically lower numbers were noted as due to a “change in data collection.”

The New Jersey Child Support Program Improvement Act, signed into law in 1998, requires annual reports to the Legislature about the program’s operation. [“Child Support: Is Losing Your License Legal?“, “Oppressive Government: Licenses & Child Support“]

In Kavadas v. Martinez, a law suit challenging the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses without conducting a hearing for nonpayment of child support, David Perry Davis, a New Jersey lawyer who represents the plaintiffs says the suspension of a driver’s license in such cases is “self-defeating” because it may prevent a parent from going to work, applying for jobs or seeing his or her children. [“American Poverty: An American Criminal Subclass“, “Unemployment, Child Support & Bradley Law“]

Davis also stresses the point that there is no way to determine what collections are attributable to license suspensions when they occur automatically upon the issuance of an arrest warrant. “Obviously, an arrested obligor’s interest is in getting out of jail – the idea that they are more motivated to do this because their license has been suspended is absurd,” Davis told the Bergen Dispatch.

In essence, the Division of Family Development claims that 100% of the money collected as a result of an arrest warrant is due solely to the automatic suspension of a driver’s license and arrests and incarceration have no impact on the money collected by the state.

“The suit does not seek to stop the suspension of driver’s licenses to force parties to pay child support, instead it attempts to limit the practice to cases where a hearing is conducted and a judge determines that it would be appropriate,” Davis said. The suit claims that the state’s practice of automatic suspensions is “unconstitutional and is contrary to the intent of the Legislature.”

“The 2014 Report still dramatically misrepresents the process, failing to inform the legislature that 99.429% of suspensions are done without a contemporaneous hearing,” Davis added.

Named as defendants in the suit are Raymond Martinez, chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; the State of New Jersey; the Motor Vehicle Commission; acting Attorney General John Hoffman; and Natasha Johnson, director of the Office of Child Support Services in the state Department of Human Services.

The program stems from a 1996 federal law requiring states to toughen their child support procedures in order to qualify for certain types of federal aid. The federal Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) called for states to develop legislation to increase ways in which compliance with child support orders could be increased.

PRWORA also requires New Jersey residents receiving benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to sign over any right to child support to their respective County. In those cases, monies collected through child support enforcement are used to reimburse the counties for TANF benefits and do not go directly to the families.

The 2014 report states, “Clearly the implementation of this program has positively impacted families that rely upon receiving support and, as an indirect benefit, has resulted in an additional revenue stream for the Motor Vehicle Commission.”

In order for a suspended license to be restored the Motor Vehicle Commission charges a $100 restoration fee.

In state fiscal year 2014 a total of 20,498 drivers’ licenses were suspended under the program, resulting in support collections of $4,333,543 or just $211 per suspension – plus $2,049,800 in additional fees to the MVC.

According to the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, on average, there are about 35,000 active child support warrants at any given time.

original article at Bergen Dispatch

Removing Barriers to Opportunity for Parents With Criminal Records and Their Children

InmateNearly four decades of mass incarceration and over-criminalization have made the United States the world leader in incarceration and arrests. The number of Americans in federal and state prisons and jails has quintupled over the past four decades. As a result, nearly 2.3 million Americans are behind bars today. The U.S. incarceration rate is at more than six times the average across developed nations. “Communities of color” and “men of color” are hit hardest, with black men six times more likely and Latino men two-and-a-half times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.

Between 70 million and 100 million Americans, or as many as one in three American adults have a criminal record. Many have been convicted of only minor offenses, such as misdemeanors and many have arrests that never led to a conviction. Regardless of whether an individual has been incarcerated, having a criminal record often carries a lifetime of consequences, lasting long after that person has paid his or her debt to society.  A minor criminal record can be a life sentence to poverty, while presenting obstacles to employment, housing, education, training, public assistance, financial empowerment, and other lifestyle choices.

dad-with-kidsWhile the effects of parental incarceration on children and families are well-documented, less appreciated are the family consequences that stem from the barriers associated with having a criminal record. A child’s life chances are strongly tied to his or her circumstances during childhood. Thus, these barriers may not only affect family stability and economic security in the short term but also may damage a child’s long-term well-being and outcomes.

Nearly half of U.S. children now have at least one parent with a criminal record. Parental criminal records create significant challenges among low-income parents and their families.

Income
Parents with criminal records have lower earning potential, as they often face major obstacles to securing employment and receiving public assistance.

Savings and assets
Mounting criminal justice debts and unaffordable child support arrears severely limit families’ ability to save for the future and can trap them in a cycle of debt.

Education
Parents with criminal records face barriers to education and training opportunities that would increase their chances of finding well-paying jobs and better equip them to support their families.

Housing
Barriers to public as well as private housing for parents with criminal records can lead to housing instability and make family reunification difficult if not impossible.

Family strength and stability.
Financial and emotional stressors associated with parental criminal records often pose challenges in maintaining healthy relationships and family stability.

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