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Posts tagged ‘debtor’s prison’

Child Support Laws Crippling Poor Fathers

by Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D

The more one learns about our system of criminal justice, the more one must wonder about some of its senseless policies.  That the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world is pretty much common knowledge to most.  But in case you have been asleep at the wheel, here are some mind-numbing numbers. With about five percent of the world’s population, the United States is home to nearly 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.  About 2.2 million people are locked behind bars on a given day.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 1,561,500 inmates in state and federal prisons at year-end 2014 (serving terms of one year or more) and another 744,660 in local jails at midyear 2014.  About 6.9 million Americans (one in 35 adults) were under some form of correctional supervision (incarcerated, on parole or probation) at yearend 2013.  The number of adult Americans with felony convictions is estimated to be about 24 million (8.6%).  About 25 percent of black American adults have a felony conviction.

That’s the big picture.  However, throughout our criminal justice system there are laws, regulations, and issues that are antithetical to the notion of a free and democratic society.  The coercive and often deadly policing of neighborhoods of color, discriminatory “stop and frisk” laws, criminalization of the mentally ill, bail policies that unfairly impact poor suspects, and what many consider to be the inhumane over dependence on and arbitrary use of solitary confinement.  Family members and friends are often forced to travel inordinate distances to visit children, friends, and other people they care for.  They are charged exorbitant fees to speak with them by telephone and are treated without dignity during visitation.  Much of this has occurred because various elected officials compete to see who can be toughest on people who defy the law.  Many books and hundreds of journal articles have been written about our unjust system of crime control.  My dissertation focused on the impact of incarceration on the earnings and employment of indigent fathers.

InmateThe Washington Post ran an article on one particularly perplexing policy impacting poor inmates which disproportionately affects black and Latino fathers.  Child support obligations continue during periods of incarceration which often amass significant amounts of debt while these fathers are behind bars.  Once released, indebted fathers are under pressure to pay down their arrears.  Failure to do so results in more late fees and penalties and could ultimately put them back in prison.  In many jurisdictions this occurs because incarceration is considered “voluntary impoverishment”.  The term generally refers to those who quit their jobs or otherwise forfeit income in order to avoid paying an ex-spouse alimony or child support.  A classic example might be Marvin Gaye’s 1978 release of “Here My Dear,” thought to be a lackluster recording whose proceeds were going to his ex-wife, Anna Gordy Gaye.

The idea that poor fathers would deliberately get themselves locked up to avoid paying child support is ludicrous on its face and a ridiculous justification for current policy.  Columbia University social work professor Ronald B. Mincy and Urban Institute scholar Elaine Sorensen first wrote about child support policies that were burying poor incarcerated fathers back in 1998 differentiating “deadbeat” dads from “turnips”.  Deadbeat dads were those who could afford to pay but did not.  Turnips were fathers who were unable to pay—the thinking being the old adage that you can’t get blood from a turnip.  Although there is a judge in Alabama who thinks giving blood is a reasonable substitute.

The Obama Administration believes current child support policy that piles debts on poor incarcerated fathers is helping no one.  It does nothing for the mother or her child’s circumstance.  Housing the father as an inmate is significantly more costly than what the state could recoup from fathers for welfare payments to their children.  Fathers are often removed permanently from the lives of their children which one could argue might be good or bad.  The Office of Child Support Enforcement has drafted new rules that will go into effect in 2017 that changes the definition of incarceration to “involuntary” impoverishment and would allow indigent incarcerated fathers to push the pause button or negotiate a payment reduction while incarcerated.

Not surprising Republican lawmakers oppose what appears to be a commonsense rule change.   Utah Senator Orin Hatch and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have introduced legislation to block the new rules.  There are many things wrong with our current system of criminal justice and reform is moving at a glacial pace.  In the meantime, much too much human capital is being obliterated by the many indelible scars being inflicted on far too many people—particularly African American males.

Child Support Laws Crippling Poor Fathers was originally published @ Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy » Charles Lewis.

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.

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.

overthrow

The War on Fatherhood in the United States

The South Carolina Killing & the Child Support Racket

by Phyllis Schafly

Scott-police-fatal-shootingWhy was Walter Scott running away from a policeman who tried to stop him because of a broken tail light? The media are trying to make a South Carolina policeman’s killing of a black man, Walter Scott, another sensational case of racism, but the media have missed the point of the tragedy.

The problem wasn’t racism, or even dangerous driving or stolen property. It was caused by the obnoxious anti-father rulings of the family courts and Scott’s fear that he would be returned to debtors’ prison. Scott had already been jailed three times for failure to pay child support, and he didn’t want to be sent to prison again.

captiveDebtors’ prisons were common in England in the colonial period. You can read about them in the writings of Charles Dickens, who wrote from firsthand knowledge; his own father spent time in a debtors’ prison.

We kicked out British rule by the American Revolution and abolished some of its trappings, such as royalty and its titles, primogeniture and bowing to our top national official. We thought we abolished debtors’ prisons even before we abolished slavery, but they continue to exist today to punish men who are too poor to pay what is falsely labeled “child support.”

We say “falsely” because the money collected from the poor guy usually doesn’t go to his kid or her mother. It just supports the welfare-state bureaucracy.

Of course, it wasn’t wise to try to outrun the policeman’s gun, but this sad event should make us re-evaluate the policy of repeatedly sending a penniless man to jail for failure to pay so-called child support.

These guys don’t have the money to hire a defense lawyer, which he should be given when jail is the cost of losing the case.

burning the constitutionWhen corporations can’t pay their debts, they can take bankruptcy, which means they pay off their debts for pennies on the dollar over many years. But a man can never get an alleged “child support” debt forgiven or reduced, even if he is out of a job, penniless, homeless, medically incapacitated, incarcerated (justly or unjustly), can’t afford a lawyer, serving in our Armed Forces overseas, isn’t the father, or never owed the money in the first place.

The reason “child support” debt can never be reduced by the court is the Bradley Amendment, named after a Democratic senator from New Jersey and one-time presidential candidate. That law should be repealed.

Fifteen years ago, a family court judge threw Scott in jail because he hadn’t made his child support payments on time, and that meant he lost his $35,000-a-year job at a film company, “the best job I ever had.” He then found some odd jobs but couldn’t make enough money to make the support payments the government demanded.

indigent in AmericaThe whole idea that a poor man is expected to support two households, including one with a child he never sees and may not even be his, is contrary to common sense and to all human experience. In too many cases, DNA investigations revealed that the poor guy is not the father of the kid for whom he is ordered to pay child support.

Scott seemed to turn a corner, but after making a couple of payments he fell behind again and was sent back to jail. He said, “This whole time in jail, my child support is still going up.”

Walter Scott’s older brother, Anthony Scott, told the Charleston Post and Courier, “Everybody knows why he ran away.” A bench warrant had been issued for his arrest for failure to pay enough child support.

A survey of county jails in South Carolina found that at least one out of every eight incarcerated people is there for not paying so-called child support. All this imprisonment is imposed without any jury trial, due process, or the benefit of a lawyer to defend the guy.

According to CUNY Law School professor Ann Cammett, an expert on incarcerated parents who owe child support, “We have zero evidence that it works. If the goal of the child support system is to get support for children, parents can’t do that if they’re incarcerated.”

kangaroo courtOne case on this issue went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011, but it didn’t produce much relief. Michael Turner of South Carolina argued that his constitutional rights had been violated because he didn’t have a lawyer at his hearing, even though jail was the penalty if he lost. The Court ordered some minimal “procedural safeguards,” but didn’t tackle the issue of giving a father the fundamental right of due process before sending him to jail.

We hope Walter Scott’s death may help some dads in the future who are unfairly treated by the family courts, not given a lawyer, denied due process and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Debtors’ Prison Is Back and Just as Cruel as Ever

By Ross Kenneth Urken

debtors' prisonTo most of us, “debtors’ prison” sounds like an archaic institution, something straight out of a Dickens novel. But the idea of jailing people who can’t pay what they owe is alive and well in 21st-century America.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, debt collectors in Missouri, Illinois, Alabama and other states are using a legal loophole to justify jailing poor citizens who legitimately cannot pay their debts.

Here’s how clever payday lenders work the system in Missouri — where, it should be noted, jailing someone for unpaid debts is illegal under the state constitution.

First, explains St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the creditor gets a judgment in civil court that a debtor hasn’t paid a sum that he owes. Then, the debtor is summoned to court for an “examination”: a review of their financial assets.

If the debtor fails to show up for the examination — as often happens in such cases — the creditor can ask for a “body attachment” — essentially, a warrant for the debtor’s arrest. At that point, the police can haul the debtor in and jail them until there’s a court hearing, or until they pay the bond. No coincidence, the bond is usually set at the amount of the original debt. As the Dispatch notes:

“Debtors are sometimes summoned to court repeatedly, increasing chances that they’ll miss a date and be arrested. Critics note that judges often set the debtor’s release bond at the amount of the debt and turn the bond money over to the creditor — essentially turning publicly financed police and court employees into private debt collectors for predatory lenders.”

Standing Up for Those Who Can’t Pay

The practice — in addition to putting an additional squeeze on poor people — turns courts and police into enforcers for private creditors, from payday lenders to health care providers. The situation prompted Illinois legislators in July to pass a bill “to protect vulnerable consumers from being hauled to jail over unpaid debts,” in the words of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The Debtors’ Rights Act of 2012 requires two “pay or appear” court notices to be sent to debtors before an arrest can be made, and also prevents creditors from calling for multiple examinations unless the debtor’s financial state has significantly changed.

Many of the victims, Madigan noted at the time, were living on funds that are legally protected from being used for outstanding debt judgments, such as Social Security, unemployment insurance or veterans’ benefits. In one case she cited, an Illinois court brought a “pay or appear” order against a mentally disabled man living on legally protected disability benefits of $690 a month. The man told the court of his circumstances but was still ordered to pay $100 a month or appear in court once a month for a three-year period.

“It is outrageous to think in this day and age that creditors are manipulating the courts, even threatening jail time, to extract whatever they could from people who could least afford to pay,” Madigan said. “This law corrects that gross oversight and puts a stop to throwing people in jail for being poor while still allowing fair debt collection when people have the means to pay their debts.”

Illinois notwithstanding, the modern-day debtors’ prison probably isn’t going away anytime soon given the current economic climate: More than a third of U.S. states allow borrowers who can’t or won’t pay their debts to be jailed.

Original article

Fathers Challenge Jail Sentences for Child Support

by Greg Bluestein
Associated Press

captiveAfter Lance Hendrix returned from military service in 2009, he landed part-time construction work and odd jobs to help pay the child support he owed for his daughter. He managed to pay about $3,800, but when he couldn’t afford to the rest, a judge threw Hendrix in jail for four months.

The 24-year-old is one of five fathers behind a legal challenge targeting a law that allows judges to put parents in jail if they can’t make child support payments. The dads say it perpetuates a disastrous cycle, as the parents wind up losing their jobs, making it harder for them to pay up. The lawsuit aims to force Georgia to provide the parents attorneys at hearings so they can better defend themselves.

“They’re putting people in jail that have no means of even supporting themselves,” Hendrix said. “Who’s going to want to hire me from jail? ‘Hello, my name is Lance Hendrix and I’m currently an inmate in Cook County Jail. Would you mind hiring me?’ Yeah right.”

Imprisoning parents over child support payments has become routine in Georgia. At least 3,500 parents have been jailed in child support cases without being provided attorneys since January 2010, according to court records. In October 2011, 845 parents were jailed in Georgia for child support proceedings.

“We absolutely have a modern day debtor’s prison,” said Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Atlanta-based organization representing the fathers. “They are forgotten about. And in many instances, the parent is sent to jail and they’re called back into court only when someone remembers that they’re there.”

The Georgia attorney general’s office and the state’s Department of Human Services declined comment on the litigation. In court filings, state attorneys said the lawsuit was unnecessary because parents could avoid incarceration by appealing the contempt orders that send them to jail. State attorneys also said locking parents up is a last resort to hold parents accountable.

If the lawsuit prevails, it could bring big changes to Georgia’s legal system, forcing the state to set aside potentially millions of dollars to pay for lawyers for the parents. Geraghty said she also hopes it could bring a shift in tactics, prodding the state to garnish the wages of delinquent parents or put liens on their property rather than incarcerate them.

“The problem that we see in Georgia is the state often uses incarceration as a first resort rather than a last resort,” she said.

The five fathers cleared a major hurdle recently when a judge granted class-action status, allowing thousands of other indigent parents who were imprisoned to join the lawsuit. The December order, by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter, only applies to those who can’t afford to pay for an attorney, not those who can hire one but choose not to do so.

The sentences given to the parents — some have spent more than a year in jail — are a result in a quirk in Georgia law. Anyone charged with criminal contempt has the right to an attorney and can only be imprisoned for 20 days. But child support hearings are civil matters, and parents charged with contempt in those cases are often jailed for far longer, without counsel.

Georgia is one of four states that don’t require indigent plaintiffs facing jail in child support cases to be appointed attorneys. The state, meanwhile, often has experienced lawyers.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in June holding that indigent parents don’t have the right to counsel in a child support hearing where the state wasn’t involved . But this lawsuit says there are thousands of cases in Georgia untouched by the ruling because the state represents the other side.

The plaintiffs and the other parents who could join the class-action lawsuit are a diverse group that includes military veterans, immigrants, the homeless and even a pregnant woman.

One is 40-year-old Randy Miller, a veteran of the Iraq war who has paid about $75,000 in child support for his two daughters over the years. He lost his job at AT&T and then lost his home in 2010, and at one point had as little as 39 cents in his bank account.

He was jailed for three months when he was unable to pay his $800 obligation. He was released in February 2011, but still owes money and fears he could be jailed again.

Hendrix is now working odd jobs, helping renovate restaurants and build furniture. He’s taken to buying canned foods from discount stores rather than fast food. He relies on help from family to pay some bills.

But it’s still not enough to pay the $480 he owes his ex-wife each month for their 5-year-old daughter, so he risks being incarcerated again.

“It’s an impossible situation,” he said. “And I can’t find a job when I’m in jail.”

this article is as it appeared in the Washington Examiner

US Constitution Not Applicable to Veterans

Those unable to pay child support can end up jailed without trial
by Jonathan Benson – Natural News

baby moneyDelinquent U.S. parents who fail to pay court-ordered child support, regardless of their circumstances, are not subject to the same constitutional protections as those charged with violating other laws. Even war veterans who have faithfully fulfilled their child support obligations for many years, but have suddenly lost their jobs or have otherwise come upon legitimate hard times, can be jailed without a trial — and in some states, they can even be thrown in prison arbitrarily without any sort of legal representation.

MSNBC reports that while most cases of child support delinquency are presumably due to parents simply not wanting to pay, some cases involve a legitimate inability to pay. But as far as many court judges are concerned, the simple act of not paying is enough to warrant prison time, regardless of the situation. And for some down-and-out veterans, this has made their already difficult lives even worse.

“I felt that with my payment history and that I had just started working, maybe I would be able to convince the judge to give me another month and a half to start making the payments again,” said 39-year-old Randy Miller, and Iraqi war veteran, to MSNBC. Miller had faithfully paid child support for more than ten years, but unexpectedly lost his job in 2009.

Miller was recently hired in a new position, and had made this fact aware to the Floyd County, Ga., judge that presided over his recent court appearance, noting that he would soon be able to start making payments again. But the judge apparently did not care much for Miller’s situation, and “went ahead and decided to lock [him] up,” where he remained for three months.

A similar situation occurred to 58-year-old Thomas Ball, a father and military veteran from New Hampshire, who had also faithfully paid child support for years, but lost his job unexpectedly. But in Ball’s case the situation ended in tragedy when, out of desperation, he doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire in front of the Cheshire County Court House where he was to be sentenced to prison for his inability to pay.

These and many other cases of unconstitutional, not to mention compassionless, acts of supposed justice in enforcing child support laws are an affront to honest, hard-working individuals — many of whom are veterans — that come upon difficult times outside of their control. Rather than be treated like guilty criminals, the law must be modified to recognize the difference between inability and indifference.

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