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Posts tagged ‘collection’

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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“Jackpot Winnings” Go To Deadbeat States

by Moody Jim Rathbone

tar and feather tooOn an increasing basis, “news articles” are bragging about how the “jackpot earnings” of “deadbeat parents” are being forfeited to various states. The latest in braggarts is the not-so-humble state of Ohio, where

What these articles don’t say and what the states don’t want you to know is that the state corporations that collect these “debts” receive a substantial windfall from the federal government. In the case of recent Ohio collections, the state is claiming to have received $2 million dollars. What isn’t said is that these state corporations receive double that amount from the federal government, an amount that comes out of the pockets of US taxpayers and an unsustainable spending debt that the nation can ill afford. The nation is bilking many parents that cannot afford it, even when some choose to gamble what they have. The state corporations will take it any way they can get it, as they justify financial pickings through “law.” Never mind that the whole current child support scam is illegal and unconstitutional per the founding documents of the nation.

tar and featherThe bigger question is what these state corporations are doing with all that federal cash, since they are charging taxpayers for billboards, super websites that list collections from casinos in “real time,” and other collection efforts on the side as well. Life must be mighty sweet for these collection agencies that are taking cash in from all sides in the name of poor helpless children. What are they doing with the money? That is the question you should be asking of your local child support collection agent. These scumbags deserve to be tarred and feathered for their criminal, but legal, activity.

overthrow

Child Support Needs to Catch Up to Reality

By Ruth Graham

dad-with-kidsONE KIND OF FAMILY is the one in an old greeting-card picture: two parents, one or more kids, all under one roof.

But another kind of family has become more and more common over the last several decades. We tend to call it “single parenting,” but it is really better described as an unmarried mother and father living apart, their children, and the government whose laws regulate their relationship.

That set of laws is the child-support system, and it covers 17 million American children—about a quarter of them. But that system is nearly 40 years old, established during a different economy, and built on an old model where the mother was the caretaker and the father simply brought home the bacon. Today, a group of critics is saying the system needs an update, not only to be fair to adults but to avoid hurting the children whose interests it is supposed to serve.

These critics are particularly focused on the role of fathers, who make up the vast majority of noncustodial parents. Fathers are overwhelmingly the target of the current system’s narrow focus on collection and enforcement. And for middle-class and high-income men, it may make sense to require simply that they pay up or else.

But 29 percent of families in the system have income below the federal poverty line, and many more have great trouble making ends meet. Since the system was first put in place, out-of-wedlock births have become less stigmatized and more common, while devastating wage stagnation has hit male workers. As a result, there are legions of low-income fathers far less able to hold up their end of the deal. They may find themselves unable to pay child support, and yet caught in a system that expects nothing else from them.

“Child support is a remnant of the days when we used to think that dads didn’t matter,” said Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who has spent years researching the ways poor American men cope with unmarried parenting. “With our right hand we’ve pushed these men away; we’ve said, ‘You’re worthless.’ With our left hand we’re picking his pocket….That’s how it feels to him.”

Today, Edin is one of a growing number of academics and policy makers looking at struggling families in the 21st century and concluding that the child-support system needs to do better. They envision a system that would more closely link providing and parenting, and would take a more pragmatic view toward the ability of disenfranchised men to come up with money they simply don’t have, while still benefiting the children the system is designed to serve. What exactly would that look like—and what would it take to make it a reality?

If forced to choose between child-support payments and buying diapers and winter coats, many fathers will go for the option that looks more like parenting than taxation.

THE CHILD-SUPPORT SYSTEM as we know it dates to the 1970s. It was originally a bipartisan policy reform, designed primarily to serve a population of parents who were divorced and steadily employed. Divorce meant there had been a marriage in the first place, and that custody agreements had likely been worked out. Steady employment meant the system could garnish wages directly from a parent’s paycheck if necessary.

Today, however, the lives of many low-income parents look dramatically different. Marriage rates among the poor have plummeted, so there often is no divorce to provide a formal structure for parents’ responsibilities. And employment prospects for men with low education are dismal. “We have a 1970s narrative about a 2010s reality,” Edin said.

hillary-clintonA central character in that narrative is the “deadbeat dad,” a figure who emerged in American culture in the 1980s. One moment served as a catalyst: In 1986, Bill Moyers interviewed a New Jersey father of six named Timothy McSeed for a CBS report titled “The Vanishing Family: Crisis in Black America.” McSeed bragged on camera about his “strong sperm,” and cheerfully admitted he didn’t support any of his children financially because “I’m not doing what the government does.” Editorial columnists seized on the shocking interview, and the segment went viral in a time when that meant more than a few easy clicks: Requests for the tape poured into CBS, including an order for all 7,500 schools in the California public school system. CBS News said it was the largest-ever demand for one of its products.

With this cartoonish bogeyman looming over the cultural and political landscape, the child-support system focused on collection and enforcement. Shortly afterward, Congress passed a law forcing states to be stricter about collecting past child-support debts. The approach was bolstered intellectually by a 1979 book by a University of Michigan law professor, “Making Fathers Pay,” which argued that aggressive enforcement measures, including incarceration, could corral deadbeats into complying with child-support orders. In 1996, President Clinton’s welfare reform act again strengthened the government’s enforcement powers against noncustodial parents.

There have always been, and will always be, some fathers who are not interested in fathering, and who would never help out if the law didn’t force them to. But recent research by sociologists and others who work with low-income fathers suggests that is far from typical. For their poignant 2013 book “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City,” Edin and coauthor Timothy Nelson conducted wide-ranging interviews with 110 low-income fathers in and around Philadelphia over the course of seven years. They found the majority of men were thrilled to become fathers, even though the pregnancies were rarely planned and their romantic relationships and employment situations were often unstable.

Overwhelmingly, Edin and other sociologists have reported, 21st-century fathers do intend to provide for their children. Many of them fail, in the financial sense. But what Edin found, encouragingly, is that with few opportunities to succeed financially, many have crafted new definitions of what exactly it means to be a good father: emotional availability, consistent commitment, and direct fulfillment of their children’s concrete needs and desires. As one father told Edin, “That’s what kept me going in prison, knowing that I had to come out and be there for them.” Although low-income fathers remain much less studied than mothers, other researchers have found similar enthusiasm for parenting. In her 2002 book, “My Baby’s Father: Unmarried Parents and Paternal Responsibility,” Maureen Waller, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, interviewed both men and women who agreed that a father’s economic support was necessary but insufficient to qualify him as a good parent.

If forced to choose between child-support payments and buying diapers and winter coats, many fathers will go for the option that looks more like parenting than taxation. That may be particularly true in cases where a mother is on welfare, because then the father’s child-support payment typically goes directly to the state, sometimes with a token amount “passed through” to the mother and child. “Dads talk about that conundrum,” said Ronald Mincy, a professor of social work at Columbia University and coauthor of the forthcoming book “Failing Our Fathers: Confronting the Crisis of Economically Vulnerable Nonresident Fathers.” “They have to choose between meeting the formal order on the one hand and meeting the child’s informal needs.” If they choose the latter, they become “deadbeats” in the eyes of the law.

Yet researchers say that both mothers and fathers tend to prefer informal agreements, all things considered. If their relationship crumbles—trust is often low to begin with—or if the father gets distracted by a new family, informal agreements can disintegrate, so the formal child-support system is a crucial safety net for mothers and children. But it’s also a system that can alienate fathers from their children, sometimes by literally putting them in jail. Even the burden of debt can be enough to drive a wedge: Waller’s ongoing research suggests that men with outstanding child-support debts have less contact and involvement with their children.

Though mothers undoubtedly have benefited from the child-support system, there’s also a case to be made that they are its victims in a way, too. Unlike parents themselves, the formal system assumes that the custodial parent is the only one with real authority. “If we give in to the notion that the mom ‘owns’ the child, if that’s the default position, then the mom is also responsible for the child,” Edin said. “Moms just end up holding the bag for everything, and men are cast out of society. That is a very bad deal for women.”

OVER THE YEARS, the child support system has improved in one measurable way: enforcement. “The reach of the child-support program, it’s stronger than the IRS in some ways,” said Jessica Pearson, who directs the Center for Policy Research and has been studying child-support policy since the 1980s. The Federal Parent Locator Service draws on national databases to track down noncustodial parents and enforce payments; in fiscal year 2013, state (and tribal) programs collected $32 billion in child support, and the amount distributed has been steadily rising for years.

That’s good news for the families who have received this money. But more than $100 billion in child-support payments are still in arrears, and research suggests that most of that is essentially uncollectible because the fathers simply do not have the money. (About a quarter of that money is owed to the government.)

Would a more enlightened system—one focused less on enforcement, and more on involvement—do a better job of keeping eager fathers involved with their children? If so, it would mean broadening the state’s approach from one that is primarily punitive to one that works with fathers, presuming that most of them want to be good parents.

Some small signs of progress seem to be on the horizon. Last month, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement began circulating a 41-page list of proposed new regulations to modernize the child-support program. (Child support programs are administered by states, but the federal government influences state policy and how it is implemented.) The new rules would make changes like allowing states to spend federal child-support dollars on employment and training programs for fathers. Crucially, they also encourage states to take into account a man’s basic cost of living before making child-support calculations.

Scholars who work with low-income families all have their own favorite ways they would like to see the system change. Waller mentions limiting retroactive debts and revising policies on how states handle interest payments. Mincy would like to see the Earned Income Tax Credit extended more generously to noncustodial parents. Job training for fathers is another big focus: Small studies in New York and Texas have shown that if the state provides training for men who haven’t been able to pay child support, they are likelier to begin to comply. And almost everyone laments the fact that some states treat incarceration as “voluntary unemployment,” so child-support debts often balloon while men are in prison.

Experts also have ambitious ideas about how the system could help incorporate fathers into the lives of their children. Some would like to connect child-support and visitation agreements for never-married parents, the way that divorce court does. Some jurisdictions have experimented with versions of “coparenting court” to help unmarried parents negotiate a more complex agreement that covers more than just check-writing.

And language matters, too. Edin bemoans the widespread use of the term “single mother,” and the way that many government poverty programs are oriented solely around mothers and children. In fact, mothers who are truly single are vanishingly rare: In one way or another, fathers and boyfriends are almost always integral parts of the picture, and those relationships are assets we would do better to strengthen than ignore. She’d like to see researchers and policy makers adopt another phrase, one she hopes would remind us how many lives are at stake in all these arrangements. The term she prefers: “Complex fragile family.”

Wow: A County That Cares About Dads

County gives aid, not jail, to deadbeats

County gives help – not jail time – to parents behind in child support payments.

Chad Brown found himself in a vicious circle two years ago — one familiar to many of the 250,000 parents in Minnesota who must make child-support payments every month.

The Chaska construction worker lost his job. Without income, he fell thousands of dollars behind on his payments for his teenage son.

That brought him to the attention of the Carver County attorney’s office, which could have charged him and sent him to jail for not making the monthly $600 payments.

Instead, Carver County officials helped Brown, 33, find a job. They also fixed his car, paid his union dues, even bought him boots and winter clothing so he could work. “They helped me out a lot,” said Brown, who is in the process of catching up on his child support payments.

Brown is one of scores of parents who benefit each year from Carver County’s innovative approach to collecting child support from parents.

The county spends about $1.4 million a year on its collections efforts, but sending people to upgrade skills or find jobs doesn’t cost extra because parents are helped through established county programs for which they are eligible. As a result, parents might qualify to receive gas cards, bus passes or even have a county-paid cab take them to work.

The county handles more than 2,000 child support cases a year. County officials say they are willing to take these extra steps for one reason:

“It’s all about the kids,” said Diane Alsleben, the county’s child support supervisor. “The more money we bring in, the better their lives will be.”

The Criminal Welfare State

“Close to half the states pass along none of collected child support to families on welfare, while most others pay only $50 a month to a custodial parent, usually the mother, even though the father may be paying hundreds of dollars each month.”

bradleyamendmentchild

New York Times 12/01/07

Mothers Scrimp as States Take Child Support

MILWAUKEE — The collection of child support from absent fathers is failing to help many of the poorest families, in part because the government uses fathers’ payments largely to recoup welfare costs rather than passing on the money to mothers and children.

Close to half the states pass along none of collected child support to families on welfare, while most others pay only $50 a month to a custodial parent, usually the mother, even though the father may be paying hundreds of dollars each month.

Critics say using child support to repay welfare costs harms children instead of helping them, contradicting the national goal of strengthening families, and is a flaw in the generally lauded national campaign to increase collections.

Karla Hart, a struggling mother of four here, held out her monthly statement from the county child-support office.

Paid by the father: $229.40.

Amount deducted to repay federal costs of welfare: $132.18.

Her share: $97.22. “That extra money was a bill I could pay,” said Ms. Hart, 56, who has lupus and other serious ailments but against her doctor’s advice has started working at a day care center, in a failing effort to achieve solvency.

Reflecting a growing, bipartisan sense that diverting child support money to government coffers is counterproductive, Congress, in the Deficit Reduction Act passed in early 2006, took a modest step toward change. Beginning in 2009, states will be permitted to pass along up to $100 for one child and $200 for two or more children, with the state and federal governments giving up a share of welfare repayments they have received in the past.

The Bush administration has set a goal of increasing the share of collections distributed to families and reducing the amount retained by the government. But the drive to reduce the budget deficit has gotten in the way. As part of last-minute budget crunching, the Republican-controlled Congress in that same act reduced by 20 percent the child-support enforcement money it gives to the states, starting this fall. Many states say the effort to force them to pay more of the enforcement costs will impede collections and prevent them from passing more money on to needy families.

“There was a real groundswell toward the idea of giving more of the money, or even all of it, to the families,” said Vicki Turetsky, an expert on child support at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington. But that momentum has been stopped short, she said, by the financing change.

Ms. Hart was luckier than most mothers in her position because for more than eight years, under a federally approved experiment, Wisconsin gave all money collected from noncustodial parents to the families. When the experiment ended last year, she lost most of the check.

“My daughter told me this morning that she needed $9 for something at school, and I was like, ‘But I have to pay the rent,’” Ms. Hart said. “I gave it to her, and now I have to find that money someplace else.”

Barry A. Miller, the chief of the North Carolina child support office, said North Carolina, like about half of all states, passed no support money on to families. “We were seriously considering a change, but it’s doubtful we could do that now,” said Mr. Miller, who is also the president of the National Council of Child Support Directors. In North Carolina and elsewhere, lost federal aid may instead force cuts in personnel and enforcement.

On Nov. 15, 24 governors from both parties sent a letter to Congress asking it to repeal the cuts, arguing that they would hurt one of the government’s most cost-effective programs, which raises more than $4 in child support for every $1 spent on enforcement.

The intensified national effort over the last decade to establish paternity for babies born out of wedlock and to collect more support money, mainly from fathers, is often described as a great success. And indeed, collections have increased significantly, to some $24 billion in 2006 from $12 billion in 1996, helping many families avoid penury.

But for the poorest men and women, the story is mixed. Young fathers with little education or job prospects find themselves in arrears and facing jail time or the loss of their driver’s licenses as a result, making it all the harder to start earning and paying, said David J. Pate Jr., an assistant professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

One startling indicator of how pervasively the poor are affected is highlighted by Daniel L. Hatcher, a legal expert on welfare issues at the University of Baltimore School of Law, in a forthcoming law review article. Of the nation’s total uncollected child-support arrears of $105 billion in 2006, Professor Hatcher writes, fully half was owed to the federal and state governments to recover welfare costs, rather than to families.

When Congress set up the current child support system in the 1970s, recovering welfare costs was an explicit goal, with some experts arguing that it was only fair for fathers to repay the government for sustaining their offspring and that giving families the money was a form of “double dipping.” But experience and research have suggested to most experts and state and federal officials from both parties that the policy is counterproductive — driving fathers into the underground economy and leaving families more dependent on aid.

Today, said Ron Haskins, a Republican expert at the Brookings Institution, “I don’t think anyone thinks it’s double dipping, especially because one of the major goals is to get more money to the mother so she can stay off welfare.”

The major obstacle to change, Mr. Haskins said, “has usually been that it cost both the federal government and the states money.”

Studies of the Wisconsin experiment showed that when support payments were fully passed along to mothers, more fathers came forward and paid more of the support they owed, said Maria Cancian, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. As families receive more support money, they are less apt to require public assistance, she and other experts say, making up for any short-term loss of revenues. And fathers are more likely to establish lasting patterns of payment and connection with their children, Ms. Cancian said.

Using child support for revenue collection “is penny wise and pound foolish,” she added.

Tonya Wenk, 24, of Milwaukee is so angry at the reduction in payments for her daughter that she and the father have applied to withdraw from the child support system. Ms. Wenk said the father, Lashun Gray, had always paid his required sum to the state and more in private.

Mr. Gray, 26, a forklift driver at a large store, said of the disappearing money, “It bothers me a lot.”

The federal government refused to extend the waiver that allowed Wisconsin to pay all money to families, but the state, despite a $27 million cut in federal aid, continues to forgive its own share of welfare costs.

That is why Ms. Hart, like others in Wisconsin, is receiving more than she would in other states. But this is small comfort to the ailing mother, who had to move to Milwaukee’s outskirts when the building where she rented an apartment was lost to foreclosure, must share a bed with a daughter and worries that she cannot buy a computer for her children in high school.

“The school says go to a library to use one, but we don’t have any transport to the library,” said Ms. Hart, who cannot even think of owning a car.

Going to work, she said, may have been a wash financially because her federal disability check and food stamps were reduced, as is her energy.

“As soon as I catch up, I’ll slow down, but it just keeps going,” she said. “I’m tired and worn out.”

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