A fugitive people within a nation is tyranny.

Archive for the ‘paternity’ 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.

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Sperm Donor: Stupid is as Stupid Does

by Moody Jim Rathbone

baby moneyLife is often full of “unintended consequences” – consequences that aren’t so unintended after all is said and done. Enter the “sad plight” of a lesbian couple that long for a child of their own, advertising for a sperm donor for “their child.” In this case, a lesbian couple places an ad on Craigslist, in a effort to fill a hole in their life.

For many women, having a child seems to be a natural longing. However, this longing is often rooted in a personal lack of sufficiency rather than “hormones” or a real need. They want a person to act as their drug of choice, a little long-term “crack cocaine” to sedate their personal pain. They long to fill a void in their heart – a hole in the soul – an act that rarely works without hurting someone else. It’s also an act that is no less selfish than the worst personal philandering of any rogue male.

Since homosexual relationships and single people cannot produce a child on their own, they need a little outside help to do so. What will these people do to have their personal “drug fix” of control? They will look for someone to fill the need, preferably some “Dudley Do-Right.” In the end, someone will control a child and the man that provided the child. The “law” says so. The “law” will control them all, as it enriches a corporate system of plunder.

william-marottaThat is where people like William Marotta step in – where angels would fear to tread.

Marotta claims that if he had a nickel for every time it has been said that he’s the sperm donor in the past three years, he’d have enough money to pay off the amount the state of Kansas wants in back child support.

Revolting. I’m not sure who is sicker here – the women, the man (in this case William Marotta) or the politicians that enforce immoral law that creates so much opportunity for abusive profit at taxpayer expense.

In this case, two women pretended to be open about their needs (as in an advertisement). They could have done as many single women have done, which is to lie to get what they want. All they need is to profess love to get what they want, or try a few one-night stands without birth control. There are enough willing men. The effect is the same as an advertisement and a written contract. In such a dire situation, the kind of personal drama where any man chooses to involve himself in such a way is accomplished at great personal risk.

He risks owing politicians, a corporate government and the “innocent women” that have been impregnated through an illicit web of lies. In effect, he risks his life. What’s worse, in many cases, he brings what is really an unwanted child into the world, “a crack baby” of another sort, a child that will become a tool of the devil in the worst way.

consentPoliticians have set the law up to enrich themselves under the pretense of morality and right. The state will place itself between the product of any relationship where it can benefit. In today’s insane age of legal pedantics, the state of Kansas claims the right to govern all human stock, despite a contract that gave all parental rights of the child to a lesbian couple. The lesbian couple have spoke up, making a vain attempt to fight the state for their rights, but the Department of Child Services won’t hear it. They told the lesbian protester that the matter was none of her business, and that she should go away – even when it involved her directly.

The state and federal government own you now – and you’re pretty little offspring too.

Remember, anyone that has your sperm for any purpose (or the product of that sperm) has power or the potential of power over you – possibly until you die. That’s the “law” – even if you’re as “rich as Croesus” and without a lick of sense.

The system “that politicians built” holds all the cards – and the rights to all the wealth behind every child produced in the States. This is the “new morality.” Your civil right is to support the state and political psychopaths. It’s government exploitation at its worst. It must be stopped. What will do you about it?

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Original Article

Father’s Day – Money Is The Measure, Not Freedom

by J. Greene

dad-and-sonMen have been honestly caring for their children from the beginnings of civilization. Some have not, including mothers. It has always been that way. We don’t live in a perfect world. Enter the modern state in all its’ wisdom, where all people are expected to tolerate a state-controlled legalized extortion racket because children are the future – but mostly for benefit of the state. The state even routinely combs through bank records in the eternal vanity of finding a few stray bucks from those that dare to evade child support collection. It’s an old game whose influence has steadily increased since the free love movement, when rancorous feminists began burning their bras and politicians saw the political cache they could achieve through social manipulation. As a result, the real role of fatherhood and the definition of a family has been continually cheapened.

stress single motherIn the corporation known as the United States, the system routinely oppresses fathers, while offering poverty support to single and divorced mothers (and some fathers). They have also been oppressing the taxpayer as well, hoping and pretending to bring in more than they spend, even as they send state corporations double their child support collections. Only the light-headed politicians of the United States would think to do such a thing. Of course, these are the same men and women that fund operations as the “policeman of world” while playing “Uncle Sugar” to the world. They even continue to send China a regular stipend because of its’ poverty, while running a burgeoning deficit that the children of the future are expected to pay. This is obviously unsustainable, despite the fact that they indirectly operate the printing presses that prop up the reserve currency of the world. In fact, this is the only reason that the lawmakers that rule “Uncle Sugar” can continue to operate as they have. The nation as it stands is living on borrowed time.

Since money is the measure in the propaganda that is cast about, you’ll find that fatherhood is measured the same way. This is no surprise in a nation mesmerized by the illusion of wealth. Social scientists at Johns Hopkins have decided that low income fathers purchase a relationship with their children.

baby money“They want their kids to look down at their feet and say, ‘My dad cares about me because he bought me these shoes,’” says a co-author of the study in a press statement. “We need to respect what these guys are doing, linking love and provision in a way that’s meaningful to the child. The child support system weakens the child/father bond by separating the act of love from the act of providing.”

Yet, the child support system plugs along mercilessly despite a nation of earners that has not truly recovered from the economic debacle that eclipsed in 2008. Untold millions have been crushed, merely grist for the mill of poor governance. Republicans claim that we must find a way to be fiscally responsible, while supporting the current child support system that imprisons the nation. This is a lie pressed to ignorant people. They simply support the status quo with the illusion of conservative values. Their buddies are merely more “progressive.” Meanwhile, the men that give their blind consent can choose to pretend they are purchasing the adoration of their children, as these social scientists say, or they can realize the truth.

mom-stressThe family is only a family as long as the family unit is together. Once breached by rejection, separation and divorce, a family is not a family at all – especially outside of a committed relationship. That a single mother and her child is a real family is also debatable. The “wise men” of the nation have simply continued to revise the definition of the family to suit their needs. That is the deeper reality that the state would have you ignore to your continued peril. It benefits them for you to believe as you do.

It has been posited that the “Founding Fathers” would turn over in their graves if they were able to know about the ongoing debt slavery and legalized human trafficking that is the United States. I think not. These men were fully aware of the hypocrisy that “America” was built on. The governance of the nation has profited from the slavery and oppression of others from the very beginning with little apology, or admission of error. The lawgivers have even reconfigured the corporation to enslave for personal advantage. Robber barons everywhere continue the public plunder under the pretense of propriety and a kind face when it suits them. Your consent is your ignorance. Even governance is just another corporation. They seduce “the people” with infrastructure and social trinkets. The propaganda machine has continued to eject that notion that the nation is a democracy, the “land of the free.” Who the “free” truly are is for you to decide.

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Imprisoning Over Child Support Payments is Counter-Productive

by Brenda Williams, MD.

Too many people are being incarcerated and ordered to pay large fines for being delinquent on child-support payments. It’s a counter-productive way to deal with the problem.

My non-profit group, The Family Unit, recently studied the incarceration of non-custodial parents in Sumter County for non-payment of child support. We found that 87 percent of those incarcerated are African-Americans and the majority are indigent, don’t have a high school diploma, live in low-income neighborhoods and are unemployed.

Most of them had jobs at the time of the arrest but lost them due to prolonged absence brought on by lengthy jail sentences, which range from four to 12 months. Several were arrested at work and ushered away from the job site in handcuffs. To add insult to injury, the child support tally keeps rising and rising, so the amount owed increases significantly while the parent is locked behind bars with no way to pay.

Additionally, scores of non-custodial parents are ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fees to the attorneys of the custodial parents. The court commonly rules that attorneys must be paid in full, either immediately or within one to four months. Failure to pay means incarceration for at least 90 days.

State law requires women to provide the names of the father(s) of their children and pursue child-support payments in order to receive benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. This is the only reason some women disclose the identity of these men.

Our study also discovered that there are no rules or guidelines for family court judges to follow when handling delinquent child-support cases: Some parents are not given jail time at all. Others are given lengthy sentences, even though they may owe less money than those who aren’t jailed.

Incarceration because of one’s inability to pay debt is unconstitutional, discriminatory and a throwback to the debtors’ prisons of yesteryear. Well-structured community service requirements are much more productive and would enable families to form stronger bonds.

The child-support enforcement system is dysfunctional and must be revisited, reviewed and reformed.

Deadbeat Dad not even a Dad

by Charlie Mitchell

“Is it working?” That’s an easy question most of the time. Problem is, when lawmakers and regulation writers fix something broken, they rarely ask. They stick to their fix whether it works or not.

Alaexander-child-support-victimConsider the predicament of Carnell Alexander.

In 1991, Alexander, who lives in Michigan, was pulled over for a traffic violation. When police “ran” his license, an arrest warrant popped up. Nonpayment of child support. Cuffed, taken to jail.

Talk about ruining your day.

It seems an ex-girlfriend had identified him as the father of her son who was born in 1978.

He didn’t think he could be the father, so when he posted bond he decided to find her. She wasn’t at the address in any of the public records. He knew her legal name may have changed and he couldn’t afford a private investigator.

He was on his own. Eventually, they met. “Well, no,” she said (or something like that) when he asked if he had a son. The mom confessed that she had become lean of funds and applied for public benefits. The paperwork required she name the father of her child. She didn’t mean any harm, but no name, no check. She felt she had no choice. And she was sorry, by the way. Paternity tests confirmed Alexander was not the father.

Same fate could await many, many men in Mississippi.

Now, there are a more twists and turns in the facts of the Michigan case, but we’ve got enough for now.

Let’s look at this from the viewpoint of those who decided a mom could not get a check unless the name of a dad was provided.

That’s a reasonable rule, isn’t it?

Why should taxpayers subsidize clothing, food and housing for a child when a biological parent, perhaps with a fat paycheck, has danced away?

Lots of dads do. Welfare rolls could be chopped if more men would be men and meet the obligations that come with parenthood.

It was a good fix. If it worked.

Back to Alexander. The state insists it tried to serve him with court papers, but the person paid to provide the summons lied about it. He wasn’t served. (Seems to be a lot of lying in Michigan.)

When Alexander did go before a judge, most recently in February, she refused to laugh it all off and send him on his way. Instead, she ruled that because so much time had passed he might have to pay the state $30,000 for aid to a child that is not his, that he didn’t know existed for more than 10 years and is now, what, 37 years old? There’s also some discrepancy in the paperwork; perhaps at one time in some way he did agree to support the child, but likely before the paternity test ruled him out.

Slippery slopes leading to nonsensical conclusions are not at all unusual in a bureaucracy, any bureaucracy. Explosive program growth is part of this, too.

Desires to help lead to programs, programs lead to rules and then the rules need rules. The premise that a child should not go hungry is valid. The premise that parents, if able, must support their own children is valid. Rarely, however, does the machinery of government take a step back to see (1) if desired goals are being met and (2) if not, why not.

Instead, more and more rules are created and less and less efficiency results. No one understands the IRS Code. The document containing the law, rules, regulations and interpretations of federal tax law is 70,000 pages. The average Bible is 900; the U.S. Constitution could easily fit on 12. Social Security kicked off as a required pension plan with contributions returned to retirees. It was never to cost a penny of public funds, but is running deficits of about $77 billion each year.

The takeaway, of course, is that in ways large and small good ideas don’t always pan out or, said another way, fail to perform as intended.

Some legal scholars now advocate every new law at every level of governance contain an automatic repeal — forcing a review.

Not a bad idea.

But Alexander has no time for abstractions. He’s still got that $30,000 debt hanging over him. “I feel like I’m standing in front of a brick wall with nowhere to go,” he said.

Regulators may propose mandatory paternity tests going forward, but that adds time, expense, confusion expense and more complications.

Another fix to fix the fix of the fix.

Pregnant With Opportunity: Mom Still Wins

by Moody Jim Rathbone

pregnant with opportunityIn the mainstream media, you’ll read headings that titillate or that simply state “New Jersey Man Ordered to Pay Child Support for 1 Twin After DNA Test Shows 2 Dads.” The truth is that this kind of behavior is a national embarrassment! So potentially embarrassing that the lawsuit represents the plaintiff and defendant only as initials. The ‘mother’ should certainly be embarrassed. The details and headlines for child support continue to get stranger as time wears on. That is what happens in a nation without standards.

In a precedent-setting case, a Superior Court judge ruled that a man who was believed to have fathered twin girls actually only fathered one of them. It’s the sick stuff of legend and a new low for the ‘prostitutes’ of the nation. But this case isn’t a precedent for the reason you might think. It’s the first paternity case in New Jersey – and the third nationwide to showcase two different fathers for a single set of twins.

A man identified only as “A.S.” was off the hook for child support payments to one of the twins after DNA testing determined that he fathered one twin, but could not have been the father of the other.

twinsThe mother, identified only as “T.M.” gave birth to twin girls in January of 2013 and named “A.S.” as a romantic partner and the father of both kids when applying for public assistance. Of note is that she admitted that she had sex with another unidentified man ‘within a week’ of having had sex with “A.S.”  Obviously, the woman couldn’t keep her legs together and wisely, social services ordered a DNA test with the “surprising results.”

“A.S.,” obviously poverty stricken, represented himself in court, and has been charged to pay $28 a week in child support payments to his offspring. An academic study published in 1997 found that different fathers occurs in about one out of every 13,000 reported paternity cases involving twins. Either way, the “hoes” and judges of America still have the power. At least, the father hasn’t been taken to the cleaners if he hasn’t been late with the child support. “A.S” likely is late and the Bradley Amendment will apply. What a way to start the life of a child, or children, as the case is here. So now that you’ve heard all this, is the mainstream media telling you what you really need to know? Hardly! The lawsuit is just the beginning. Both parents, especially the father, will continue to experience all kinds of personal invasions and persecutions in the name of taking care of children. These mainstream articles don’t discuss the abuses that non-custodial parents face because of government policy that is nothing less than unconstitutional. Once the lawsuit dies down, good old dad will be without due process, completely at the mercy of government policy that has no mercy. Even worse, all Americans are paying dearly with their privacy and banking information so that big government can quickly snap up cash for kids.

For example, in United States statute, the Bradley Amendment (1986, Public law 99-509, 42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(9)(c)) requires state courts to prohibit retroactive reduction of child support obligations. Specifically, the amendment:

  • automatically triggers a non-expiring lien whenever child support becomes past-due.
  • overrides any state’s statute of limitations.
  • disallows any judicial discretion, even from bankruptcy judges.
  • requires that the payment amounts be maintained without regard for the physical capability of the person owing child support (the obligor) to promptly document changed circumstances or regard for his awareness of the need to make the notification.

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How the US Legal System Screws Poor Parents

father-child-in-prisonA system full of flawed logic that winds up hurting children more than it helps them.

by Wendy Paris

Walter Scott wasn’t just a black man in America shot by a police officer; he also was a divorced father. While debate rages about excessive use of police force, his death points to another troubling practice—the incarceration of poor parents for failing to pay child-support.

For the most part, these are not “deadbeat dads”; they’re dead broke dads. Seventy percent of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents with no or low reported earnings, according to the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Their ex-wives often are poor, too. For these families, our punitive child support policies function like a de facto debtor’s prison for fathers. This, at a time when divorce, more broadly, has dramatically improved for many. While family scholars and journalists voice concern about a growing “marriage divide”—the way that marriage has become almost a luxury good attained by the “haves” and eschewed or effectively denied to the poor—a similar sorting is happening with divorce and co-parenting.

On the one hand, celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow seek conscious uncouplings. Upper- and middle-class couples seeking divorce in the US benefit from ever-increasing psychological, financial, and parenting resources. The law itself has improved divorce for many. New legal approaches such as mediation and collaborative counsel can make filing itself a mutually uplifting experience. These forms of “alternative dispute resolution” help adults make good decisions for everyone in the family, and steer clear of the divisive, anger-escalating spectacle of family court. Divorce can be seen as another awkward life passage, one that generates laughs, as on Bravo network’s new show The Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.

kangaroo courtBut if a family finds itself in court, the system seems stacked against the poor. “Many states have two systems, one for married parents and one for poor people/welfare cases that are funneled through ‘paternity dockets’ where they barely get to say a word,” says Daniel Hatcher, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore and a prolific researcher of and advocate for child support reform. “It’s a tribunal that’s just about child-support and paternity. It’s crowded. Judges are jaded. They face huge case loads.” As the trend toward unmarried parenting continues, especially among the poor, these paternity dockets look to grow even more crowded, meting out rushed decisions to more families.

While in court, a non-custodial parent, usually the father, may have a chance to explain to a busy judge his financial situation—perhaps he’s unemployed and worried about falling behind on rent. In many states, the judge can decide that this father could be earning minimum wage, impute that income to him, and set a custody amount he must pay the mother of his child as a percentage of his potential (that is to say, fictitious) earnings.

great-child-support-incomeMaybe this obligation pushes him to scramble for a job. Perhaps it takes a few months. All the while, the child support debt has been accumulating. Now he has the monthly obligation plus back payment. (This is where the Bradley Amendment kicks in.) Some states terminate parental rights or throw a parent in jail or prison for back child support, or “non-compliance” with court orders. In South Carolina, the court can order the noncompliant father to appear to explain his delinquency, charge him $1,500 in the process, and jail him for up to a year. South Carolina is hardly an outlier. In Texas, a parent can be incarcerated even after he’s paid back his child support debt. (Texas is infamous for overcrowded courts, too. In one court in Harris County, Texas, a court master decided 500 paternity and child support cases in one day.)

Now the father is in jail; for some, like Scott, incarceration means the end of that great (or not so great) job. While in jail or prison, child support debt continues to mount in many states, some of which consider incarceration “voluntary unemployment.” In some states, you can apply for a child support modification while behind bars, but many parents do not know about this option, may find the process confusing, and may not realize their child support debt continues. Studies from a few states show that on average, a parent with a child support case enters jail or prison about $10,000 behind; he leaves owning more like $30,000. This debt is unlikely ever to be paid. The national child-support debt is more than $115 billion.

empty-pockets-robbed-court-orderIn South Carolina, if the non-custodial parent accumulates $500 in back child support while unemployed, the state can suspend or revoke his driver’s license as punishment. Say our unemployed father is a truck driver. Without his license, he’s lost his ability to work, and probably his sense of autonomy as an adult, and his willingness to cooperate with a system that’s working against him. As Scott’s brother Rodney told the New York Times, “Every job he has had, he has gotten fired from because he went to jail because he was locked up for child support. He got to the point where he felt like it defeated the purpose.”

Incarceration also prevents a parent from spending time with his children. Research from a variety of areas shows that when the non-custodial parent spends time with his children, he’s more likely to pay child support. Forty years of research on child development shows that children benefit from having a good relationship with both parents, or parent-type figures. Incarceration yanks a parent right out of a child’s life.

ebt-card-welfareIf a custodial parent—usually the mother—seeks Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, the program that replaced welfare) or food stamps, both parents are treated like bad children. The mother is required to name the father, establish paternity, and sue the father in court for support, even if they have an in-kind arrangement that’s working. The pursuit of child support can destroy relationships. The money, if he has it, often goes back to the state for supporting the brood, not to his children. Meanwhile, the dads who can’t pay may find themselves in jail or prison, unable to help mom in other ways, such as picking up the kids from school or throwing a ball around on weekends.

The logic flaw baffles the mind, and hurts the heart, especially since about half of the nation’s back child support is owed to the government. In many states, child support collected in the name of the custodial parent receiving government aid does not go to that parent. It goes to the government instead, to pay for the cost of the food stamps of TANF. “The idea is that if we’re supporting this mom, we should be able to go after the dad to recoup this cost,” says Hatcher. “The guidelines don’t really work for these welfare cases at all. Most policy is driven by discussion about cases where both parents are working, middle class families on up; you plug in both parents’ income and then transfer to the custodial parent. That doesn’t make any sense when the money goes to the government.”

How have we arrived at these anti-family policies?

captiveIn the 1980s and ‘90s, the notion of the “deadbeat dad” loomed large in the public conscious, in part because of one spectacularly flawed and widely-cited study—since retracted by its own author—that purported to show divorced mothers subsisting at a third of their former standard of living, while the fathers lived better than ever. For many custodial parents, child support is the road out of poverty. Much child support went uncollected, and enforcement policies were changed to improve the situation. Some policies worked; the Office of Child Support Enforcement today still publishes reports showing continued gains in money collected. Threat of jail was considered a good motivator for delinquent dads, and it may be in some cases.

When it comes to the poor, however, these policies can create more harm than good. Maybe some fathers refuse to pay out of spite, while some mothers actively want their children’s father behind bars, if he’s violent, for example. But as research from a variety of areas shows, most of these poor families are fragile relationships, perhaps begun while very young, both people harboring hope for a future of stability and cooperation, even reconciliation or romance.

scarlet-letter-adulteryOld ideology probably contributes to our current policies as well—a view of faltering families that’s about as enlightened as something out of The Scarlet Letter. In England, Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601 authorized towns to sue fathers of unwed mothers to reimburse them for assistance provided to their children. Early “bastardy acts” allowed colonies to incarcerate pregnant unwed mothers to protect the state from the financial burden of the child. Today’s laws are not as different as you’d expect. Lurking underneath lies an entrenched view that fathers are the lazy enemies of their own families, and poor mothers, in some way brought this on themselves. (You see this kind of view in the comments section of a recent piece in Concurring Opinions by law professors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone on the child support link in the Walter Scott affair.)

Some of the resources benefitting middle and upper-class divorcing couples help the poor, too. Technology, for example, allows those across the economic spectrum to read about their state’s laws online and access forms without shelling out for a lawyer. Courthouses around the country now have staffed self-help centers to guide pro se litigants (a.k.a. the do-it-yourself divorcees) through the paperwork. Increasingly, lawyers offer “unbundled” services, a consultation on an hourly basis. Most states have parenting classes and workshops for divorcing parents. Surveys show, and casual conversation confirms, wide satisfaction with these workshops.

Scott-police-fatal-shootingBut unmarried parents as a group get fewer resources, and if one parent sues the other in court, the kind of Orwellian child support laws that dogged Walter Scott kick in across the states. The overarching principle is the best interest of the child (a legal myth), but this aim gets subverted in policies that hurt the whole family.

There are solutions, the most promising of which take a problem-solving, rather than punitive approach. In Virginia, child support enforcement workers have begun reaching out to employers to find work for non-compliers, rather than more jail time. The state also has retooled its child support guidelines and begun launching programs aimed at helping poor fathers improve job-hunting and parenting skills. Some states have experimented with assessing child support only if a non-custodial parent has a minimum reserve of income. States, including California and Ohio, have passed statutes requiring the exercise of discretion rather than automatically referring certain child welfare cases to child support enforcement services.

In Maryland, Hatcher has worked on legislation to allow the state to automatically disable child support arrears during incarceration. This reform passed, but is not widely enforced. Hatcher notes that one stumbling block to reform is poor communication between child support enforcement and the criminal justice system.

This problem of poor communication—long the dominion of marriage counselors—is one I’ve seen repeatedly in my own research on divorce. I’d assumed that bad divorces result from a dearth of good ideas, but found instead that there are creative, humane solutions coming from a variety of states and various disciplines— and abysmal communication of them. In divorce, as in marriage, good communication may be the best way to suture a gap.

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