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Archive for the ‘civil rights’ Category

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.

The Homeless Dads: The Bad Deal Divorce

John McElhenney still tries to see the balance in his divorce decree. But after losing everything twice, he’s convinced we men need to fight for equal consideration after the marriage has ended.

empty-pockets-robbed-court-orderThe typical divorce is actually pretty painful. The standard DEAL is almost an assault to fatherhood, and we need to fight to change it. In the most common arrangement, Mom gets the kids and house, dad gets the child support payment. It’s how things used to work. But today, unfortunately, the courts still go by this structure unless there is significant fight to something difference.

There are a few problems with this pattern.

chronic-stressThe non-custodial parent is assumed to be a deadbeat when they are calling the AG’s office. You are segmented into custodial or non-custodial parent at the beginning. If you are the non-custodial parent the only reason you’d be calling is you are behind on your child support.

When we complain about unavailable dads, or dads that check-out after divorce, here are a few of the reasons why.

  1. The child support burden is a lot of money.
  2. Dads might be resentful of the “money only” role they are being put in.
  3. When dad is asked to leave the marital home they are often forced to move in with family members or friends, this is largely because of the cost of child support.
  4. In addition to $500+ per kid in child support (estimate) the dad is also asked to pay for health insurance. (Today, in my case this is an additional $1,200 per month with two kids.

burning the constitutionSo let’s see, I’ve got no home. I’m paying $1,200 a month for child support and $1,200 a month for health care. How can I afford an apartment? If I don’t have a killer job ($2,400 after tax expenses before I get a dollar for myself or my survival. Well, that’s a pretty steep hill to climb.

IF the playing field were equal, I would guess a lot more divorces would be negotiated in good faith. Today, even if you declare a collaborative divorce, the issue of money is liable to strike the dad in the pocketbook in a way the mom, to start out with, does not even have to consider. RARE is the case where the dad is given full custody and the mom pays child support.

Shouldn’t we start with 50/50 in both financial responsibility AND parenting time? This is the fight we are fighting in the courts today. I’m considering going back to court to reset the arrangement. I was attempting a collaborative divorce, but in the end I was handed this lopsided deal. I have to earn over $3,000 per month (taking taxes out BEFORE I pay the mom) before I have a chance at even putting food on the table.

baby moneyThis leaves a lot of dads as deadbeats, not because they are actually trying to shirk their responsibility, but because the mom and the court have saddled them up with so much financial liability that they cannot afford to make the payments each month. At that point the dad is subject to financial liens, foreclosure, and checking account freezes.

You know what happens when the AG’s office freezes your account?

  1. The bank charges you $57 – $150 for the freeze.
  2. The bank processes no further payments (rent, car payments, even your child support payments)
  3. You bounce checks.
  4. You’re credit get’s screwed.
  5. You end up with an additional $200 – $400 in fees.

And you know what the AG’s officer will tell you? (The Humans Of Divorce, Dear AG’s Office Special Cases Officer Mr. McK!)

indigent in AmericaFair treatment of fathers begins at the beginning of the relationship. BEFORE you have kids, you can agree to parent 50/50. If that’s the deal, you should have the discussion about if things don’t work out. (I’m not talking prenuptial, just an understanding) In my marriage we started out 50/50, but as soon as she decided she wanted a divorce (yes, it was her idea) the arrangement went to the cutting floor and I was handed the dad deal. A bad deal for everyone.

As the dad can’t afford a nice place for the kids to come visit, they want to come visit less. As mom’s house maintains some of its status and comfort (important for the kids) the dad is left in the cold to fend for himself AFTER he makes all the payments to help the mom stay in the house and live within the lifestyle the couple achieved TOGETHER. Except now it’s not together. And the cooperation you started with before you had kids, becomes a longterm ground war between “the money you owe me” and the money you can afford to pay without suing your ex.

Dad’s are just as important as moms. Even with young kids, the loss of either parent (my dad left when I was 5) is on of the most painful aspects of divorce. For the dad it is doubly devastating: the no longer have a house, and the courts and the AG’s office have now put their credit at risk, making employment and ability to pay even more difficult.

Consider the dads. If you’re a dad consider the courts and get an attorney who can show  you examples of winning in court for fair arrangements.

captiveThe money after divorce should be divided equally. Anything else puts man men at risk for debit issues, credit issues, and put them at risk of suicide and depression. Let’s put the balance back in divorce. Give both parents the benefit of the doubt. And both parents should be advocating for a 50/50 split in the same spirit they entered parenthood, with expectations of a 50/50 partnership. That partnership doesn’t end at divorce. But if we load up the man with all of the financial obligations and punish him for being late on a payment or two, we are hurting all the members of the family. The mom loses when the dad’s account is frozen. Even if the mom didn’t want it to happen. Once you’ve asked the AG’s office into your divorce, they never leave. (Inviting the Dinosaur Into Your Divorce)

We need fair divorce laws. We need courts that will listen to the needs of both parents and consider 50/50 parenting as the desired outcome. Until we stand up and fight for equality AFTER marriage we will continue to be on the losing side of the post-marriage equation.

original article

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.

Some States Are Cutting Poor Dads A Deal On Unpaid Child Support

child support shacklesMany states have opted for oppression when it comes down to child support debt. A few wiser minds are prevailing in a few places. When the state of Maryland wanted to reach dads who were behind on their child support payments, it started in the boarded-up blocks of West Baltimore, in neighborhoods marked by drugs, violence and unemployment.

In just four zip code areas, the state identified 4,642 people who owed more than $30 million in back child support. Most of that was “state-owed,” meaning that rather than going to the child through the custodial parent, it’s supposed to reimburse taxpayers for welfare paid to the child’s mother.

This is a source of great resentment for many men, who say they want their money to go to their children. But most who owe it can’t pay anyway, as they earn less than $10,000 a year.

slavery to children“So even if we use taxpayer dollars to chase ’em down, and we catch ’em, right, and we go into their pockets, there’s nothing in there,” says Joe Jones of Baltimore’s Center for Urban Families.

Are they deadbeat?

Joseph DiPrimio, head of Maryland’s child support enforcement office, doesn’t like that expression. “I think that’s vulgar. I don’t use it,” he says. DiPrimio prefers “dead broke.”

“We’re talking about individuals that are economically challenged, they’re underemployed, but they want to do the right thing,” he says.

Unpaid child support in the U.S. has climbed to $113 billion, and enforcement agencies have given up on collecting much of it. They say too many men simply don’t have the money.

What’s more, research shows that high child-support debt can leave parents feeling so hopeless that they give up trying to pay it.

Breaking Through The Distrust

ecard father bradley amdLike a growing number of state government officials, Maryland’s DiPrimio wanted to make parents an offer. But he needed their trust, and that was a problem.

Research shows high child support debt can leave parents feeling so hopeless that they give up trying to pay it.

And sting operations to round up parents who owed child support have happened all over the country, including Baltimore. In a typical ruse, agencies have sent fake letters telling parents they won tickets to a football bowl game, for instance — but when they showed up to collect, they were arrested instead.

father-sonTo break through years of distrust, Maryland sent letters to parents with the logo of the Center for Urban Families, a nonprofit in West Baltimore that provides job training and other help to poor families.

They made this offer: If the parent takes the center’s month-long employment training course and lands a job, the state will forgive 10 percent of his or her child support debt. If they complete a Responsible Fatherhood program, the state will write off another 15 percent. One of the first persons to sign up was a mother, though the vast majority of noncustodial parents are men.

In a separate “debt compromise” program, Maryland will also write off 50 percent of a parent’s child support debt if they maintain monthly payments for a year.

fathersrightsResponse has been slow. In two years, slightly more than 100 parents have signed on. Many of them attend fatherhood meetings like one held on a recent Wednesday night. Two dozen men — 20-something to middle age, in sweats and in suits — sit in a large square.

Some complain their exes won’t let them see their child if they haven’t paid child support. Others don’t understand why it doesn’t count as support when they take their kids out to eat, or buy them clothes — or say they would do those sorts of things for their kids if their child support obligation wasn’t so heavy.

Mostly, like 30-year-old Lee Ford, they say it’s so hard to find work

“You telling me no matter what, I gotta pay. But I can’t get a job to work to save my soul,” he says.

Group leader Eddie White cuts no slack. “If you know you got a criminal record, sure it’s gonna be hard for you to get a job. But it don’t mean you can’t work,” White says.

A big part of this class is also educational. White asks the men what a person who is paying child support should do if he gets laid off or loses his job.

“There you go, that’s the word. Immediately,” White says. “Immediately ask the court for an adjustment.”

Other Approaches To Debt Relief

Maryland’s program is part of a larger effort to keep impoverished parents from racking up child support debt in the first place.

baby moneySome states are trying to speed up the cumbersome process of adjusting an order when a parent loses a job. Ohio has experimented with sending simple reminders — by phone, mail or text — to parents who need to send in monthly payments. Texas has reached out to newly incarcerated parents, to let them know they can apply to have their payments reduced while in prison — something not all states allow.

“We sent out a teaser postcard trying to combat the ostrich effect,” says Emily Schmidt, a research analyst with the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, who helped with the Texas effort.

Schmidt says there was concern that someone going through the emotional transition of incarceration wouldn’t likely be thinking about child support, and may not even open a letter from the state. So they printed the postcard on blue paper to stand out, and, taking a cue from marketers, it said, “Four easy steps to lowering your child support.”

After 100 days, the response rate among parents was up 11 percent, “a very low-cost intervention for a fairly dramatic effect,” Schmidt says.

barack obamaThe Obama administration wants to “right size” child support orders from the start, and has proposed regulations to make sure they are set according to what parents actually earn. Officials say some jurisdictions base orders on a full-time minimum wage, even if a parent earns far less. They say this can backfire, leaving so little money after a parent’s wages are garnished that he or she quits and works underground instead.

The White House’s proposals also would provide more job training for parents with child support debt — something Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution says is a good investment.

“More fathers will get a job, more fathers will have earnings, and more fathers will use those earnings to pay child support,” he says.

So far, that’s what’s happened in Baltimore. The numbers are small. But the amount of child support that’s been paid is more than double the amount of debt written off.

Maryland wants to expand its child support debt forgiveness program, hoping to help more parents to pay what they can.

How America’s Child Support System Failed To Keep Up With The Times

clinton-child-support-celebration
When the U.S. child support collection system was set up in 1975 under President Gerald Ford — a child of divorce whose father failed to pay court-ordered child support — the country, and the typical family, looked very different from today.

And as the nation’s social, economic and demographic landscape has shifted, the system has struggled to keep up. Cynthia Osborne, director of the Child and Family Research Partnership and associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, explains how these changes have outpaced the decades-old system — and left the country with more than $113 billion in unpaid child support.

Walk us through what the child support collection system looked like in 1975. What issues was it designed to address? What did the typical family look like?

It was officially launched in 1975, which is when the government established Section IV-D of the Social Security Act. No-fault divorce had recently been passed, and there was a rapid increase in divorce.

In 1975, this system would try to ensure that after a divorce, we would try to replicate what the household looked like prior to the divorce with regards to the children’s well-being. So the father would continue to provide income to the child, and the mother normally would get the child following a divorce in terms of physical custody, and she would use the resources from the father.

The whole system was set up in a way to try to bring back what the nuclear family looked like prior to a divorce, and nearly everyone who entered into the child support system was a product of divorce. There were very few nonmarital births at that time.

During that time period, divorce was one of the single greatest predictors that a woman, especially a woman with children, would fall into poverty. The research indicated that fathers typically gained financially following a divorce, even though they were ordered to pay child support, and mothers typically lost financially, they had both the children and reduced income. And so the child support system was hoping to try to offset some of that.

The 1970s and ’80s saw profound social, economic and demographic changes. What sort of shifts were occurring, and how did they affect child support?

There was this huge increase in divorce, and a beginning rise in nonmarital childbearing that was nearly nonexistent in the early 1970s — then becoming, by the mid-1980s, up into the 20 percent of all children.

Those were big changes that were occurring in the family, and simultaneously there were gains and losses in the labor market. There were more and more women who were starting to enter into the labor market during both the 1970s and ’80s. And the question about what women’s role was, vis-a-vis caring for their child and working and so forth, was starting to be really front and center in the discussion of women’s place within the family and the economy.

Still, though, the majority of women, when they became mothers, were the primary caretakers and not the primary breadwinners. The single mothers also were not very likely to work. So married moms were staying at home to take care of the kid. Single moms were on welfare, and our welfare rolls were expanding quite rapidly.

The 1980s [also] saw a huge boom in the return to college education, and this is especially true for men. And those who got this education— with higher skills and higher-wage jobs — were starting to really pull away from men who had lower levels of education or moderate levels of education. And men at the very bottom, who had no high school education especially, were starting to lose in real terms of their value of earnings. And that’s really a trend that’s continued until today.

And when we think about who those men are partnered with, often they’re partnered with the same women who are more and more likely to be dependent on welfare rolls — during this time there was a huge increase in welfare rolls — and also mostly among less educated women.

So you now had a growing number of women who were either divorced or not married who were seeking public assistance, and a growing number of less educated men who had very few prospects in the labor market, and declining prospects at that.

It really can’t be overstated how important in the whole welfare reform debate [it] was that one of the fastest entrants into the labor market were women with children under the ages of 5. And it became harder and harder to justify that we should have a system that would support one group of women to stay at home with their children while this other group of women was choosing to enter into the labor market.

And all this set the stage for welfare reform?

Yes, with that kind of backdrop — with two earners becoming necessary, women making this conscious decision to enter into the labor market and the general dismay about the existing welfare reforms system — we started really to think seriously about how we should do this differently, and what should we expect of moms and so forth, and I think that’s why the work requirements became so steep in the welfare reform debate.

And with child support, by the mid-1990s when all of these reforms were being put into place, nonmarital childbearing had risen from being something that was not very pervasive to nearly one-third of all births, 25 to 28 percent. Now, it’s at 41 to 42 percent.

What were the hallmarks of the 1996 welfare reform?

Welfare reform really did punctuate this idea that fathers should be responsible for providing for their children, that the state will do it in limited circumstances, but that we want the fathers to be the ones who are responsible for this. And there was a very strong notion at that point that men who weren’t paying for their child support were not involved in their children’s lives, were just deadbeat and avoiding the system.

The Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) made it so that the guidelines had to be more specific, and that the states had to enforce them more carefully. It changed what the performance measures were for states — basically, if you set an order, you have to collect on it and there could be penalties if you didn’t. And it really punctuated the idea that child support is a direct link with welfare, that there really isn’t a way for a mom who’s going to go on public assistance to avoid seeking child support.

In 1994 our rolls on welfare were some of the largest that they had been; they had really ballooned up to the point where upwards of 7 percent of kids were on welfare rolls. There was no end in sight because of the increase in nonmarital childbearing and who was now coming into the system was a different family type than what the system was initially set up to accommodate. And that, I think, remains one of the biggest challenges of our system.

And so the initial system was set up to replicate the nuclear family of dad as breadwinner, mom as homemaker, and now you have families in which mom and dad may have never lived together. They may have lived together when the child was born for a short period of time. They may or may not have shared resources. The father may have been contributing or not contributing.

And that gets us to the massive amount of unpaid child support — $113 billion and counting.

Right. Each state does it differently, but Texas will determine what a noncustodial parent’s income is. If he says zero, well, there isn’t zero child support, there will often be a presumption that he should be working full time, full year at at least minimum wage. So the judge will often set what’s called a minimum wage order, and it’s about $215 a month in Texas, which is about 20 percent of your net income of that. So here is a father who is now going to owe $215 a month plus about $50 a month in medical support. And he did not disclose that he had any income at the time that he established those awards.

It could be even worse, it could be — and this happens very often — that that man comes in, but his child is 2 years old. And now, either he’s been evading for two years, or he didn’t know he had this child, or they were together for almost all that time, but now they’ve separated. There could be lots of different reasons, but the child’s now 2 years old. The judge could order at that time that not only does he owe $200 each month moving forward, but he owes $200 a month for those two years …

Even if they were together but not married?

That’s right. And so this back child support is something that’s very real. A lot of the men start off in this hole that they just simply cannot dig themselves out of. For some of these guys, having a $5,000 arrears payment, it would be like a middle income person having a $50,000 debt that they’re just supposed to somehow work their way out of. It feels almost impossible.

What about the people who argue that this just doesn’t make sense?

I think it is actually not a simple answer. We do need to feel like men are being held accountable for their children, or noncustodial parents are supporting their children in some way. I do think that it’s reasonable for people to say somehow men have to demonstrate that they are going to provide for their children. Even if it is $200 a month and even if they don’t have a job, we are going to hold them accountable.

That just ignores, though, the fact that we can say that, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to pay it. We often know that if they’re not able to pay their child support formally, that they’re less likely to be able to contribute informally. They’re going to stay away from the child; they’re going to be less involved.

So although it makes sense on some level that we want to find a way to hold these dads accountable, in fact, what we’re doing is making it less likely that he’s going to be engaged in his child’s life by providing informally or being involved in other sorts of ways, and it’s going to cause difficulties in the co-parenting relationship between the mom and the father.

And for those reasons, there are proposals by the Obama administration — and other folks have been advocating this for quite a while — that say, let’s set what we call right-sized orders, that we actually take into account what he actually has the ability to pay when we establish these child support orders, and that we’re hoping that if he pays $25 a month now, that we can modify that order later when he gets more income and he’ll pay a little more and so forth.

This applies also to fathers who are incarcerated. We have a huge number of fathers who are incarcerated at some point in their child’s life. But it has not been a material reason to alter your child support award amount. So that’s another change proposed by the Obama administration, that if you are incarcerated, that we modify the child support order in some way to reflect that you cannot earn an income during that time.

In Texas, the average arrears payment that a father owes who’s been incarcerated coming out of prison is $8,000. When he comes out with high levels of arrears, he’s less likely to enter into the formal labor market and have his wages immediately garnished, so it just sends him back to the underground economy and the chances of recidivism and incarceration are really high.

Ultimately, then, what’s the purpose of child support system?

The states’ incentives really are to set amounts that can be collected on that make it look like they are reaching collection goals. But the performance measures at the federal level are based on the proportion that you collect based on the proportion that’s established.

So the states could benefit if they move to this more right-sized orders approach. But we have to be careful that that big dollar amount out there of what we’re collecting doesn’t become the driving force of how to maintain our child support enforcement system.

To be perfectly honest, I think if I could be queen for the day, in today’s families, I would change the presumption that there is an equal division of time and an equal division of responsibility for providing for that child. That’s not going to work for every family. Some of them have never been contributing, some have both been contributing but at disproportionate amounts.

But if we started with the 50-50 presumption, then the judge could work with the families to say, well, how do we get to some form of equality that works for you guys?

If we really started with this presumption that we’re going to jointly care for our children, even though the parents are not married to each other, and then let’s work out a system that seems fair in both the amount of time that we’re spending and the amount of resources that we’re spending, that it costs to raise this particular child, it’s a lot more work on the part of the state to figure out what that is, but it just feels like that would be more fair.

For our low-income guys who can’t afford anything, the moms are having to work, why don’t they provide the child care? We’re not ready to go that way with our families, but our families have changed so much, we need a system that starts to keep up with them some way.

from NPR

Child Support: Income That Doesn’t Exist’

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Human rights in the USA

“When people have orders that they can’t comply with, it doesn’t motivate them to work and pay. It does the opposite,” says Turetsky of the Office of Child Support Enforcement.

She says too many men quit jobs, turn down promotions or go underground when courts set child support orders too high. One problem, she says, is that when there’s no evidence of income, many jurisdictions “impute” it, often basing payments on a full-time minimum wage job.

“I’m going to call it magical thinking,” Vicki Turetsky says. “You could call it the income we think you should have. But the bottom line is that it is income that does not exist.”

The child support system was set up four decades ago, and Turetsky says it seems stuck there — as if a man with no college can still walk into a factory tomorrow and pull down middle-class wages. In fact, a large majority of child support debt is owed by men who make less than $10,000 a year.

“We’re asking that [women and children] become dependent on men who are just as poor as they are,” says Jacquelyn Boggess of the Center for Family Policy and Practice.

When parents face incarceration for nonpayment, it can burden entire families. Boggess has seen men’s mothers, even their ex-girlfriends or wives, step in to pay to keep a father out of jail. And child support debt never goes away, even if you declare bankruptcy or when the children grow up.

“We found that there are 20- and 30-year-old children who are paying their father’s child support debt, so their father can keep whatever small income they may have,” she says.

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Balancing Responsibility And Reality

Among the Obama administration’s proposed changes to child support rules is a provision barring states from letting child support pile up in prison. There is wide support for that, even among conservatives.

“Everyone agrees, yes, we should be tough,” says Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution. “But if a father goes to jail for five years, should he owe $15,000 in child support when he comes out? You know that guy’s never going to have $15,000 in his whole life.”

More controversially, the administration wants to make sure child support orders are based on a parent’s actual income.

“We can’t be naive when we’re dealing with parents who have walked away from providing for their children,” says Robert Doar, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Doar, who used to head child support enforcement in New York state, says there will always be some parents who go to great lengths to hide income. He does support suspending debt during incarceration and more job training programs — but he worries that the proposed changes would make it too easy to dismiss cases as “uncollectible.”

“We’re talking about poor, single parents, often moms,” he says. “And the child support collections that they get, when they get it, represents 45 percent of their income.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill have filed bills to block the proposed regulations. They worry they’ll undermine the principle of personal responsibility, a hallmark of child support enforcement measures in the 1990s. They also say any regulatory changes should be made through Congress, not the administration.

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