A fugitive people within a nation is tyranny.

Posts tagged ‘fairness’

The Disconnect On How Child Support Laws Are Viewed & How They Work

reviewed by Moody Jim Rathbone

child support formulasThe public views court-ordered formulas calculating child support in the United States and England to be unfair, according to a study released Monday. Articles proclaim that researchers hope that this will be valuable information for policymakers dealing with family law issues. Existing child support law is not consistent with the basic application of fairness that most people have.

Here’s the kicker. The research ultimately found that the public believes child support should be adjusted higher or lower based on the mother’s income (assuming she is the custodial parent caring for the children). If you take this statement alone and at face value, the danger and disconnect here seems to be that the income of the father is ignored. Hm-m.

In some states, child support is based solely on the noncustodial parent’s income, while in others both incomes are used in the calculation with an emphasis on the noncustodial parent’s income. Each state has a set formula for judges to use in child support cases.

justice and moneyThis study used face-to-face questions and feelings about certain courtroom scenarios. Respondents were found to be three times as responsive than the law when it came to adjusting child support based on income changes of the noncustodial parent. In one hypothetical scenario, if the noncustodial parent made less than a custodial parent, the amount of child support would be lowered, by $100. In that case, the respondents reported they would actually lower the amount by $300. Judges have grown to be jaded and unfair.

The study also found that once a father was ordered to pay a certain amount, that percentage of his income should remain the same even if his income increased or decreased.

The law doesn’t pay any attention to remarriage of the custodial parent, but respondents wanted to take into account the stepparent’s income. This is also a dangerous precedent, allowing for more ravaging of real families by the state. This begins to tell me that a fair percentage of participants in this study were sympathetic, yet disconnected from the damage that child support is already doing to families.

Non-custodial parents have become targets for a state-operated racketeering and extortion operation. Increasingly, the state is proving to be the mafia, even though most of us have become conditioned to this. Is that an insane statement? Hardly. It becomes apparent when you are the target.

dad-slavery-2Child support is routinely established at levels higher than the noncustodial parent can pay. Child support is determined by judges who refer to an income table and set of guidelines. Judges do have the authority to depart from those guidelines and modify amounts depending on certain circumstances, but they must justify in writing why a case needs different treatment. This may, or may not be a problem. Yet, the difficulty of modifying court-ordered child support in situations where non-custodial parents have lost their job or had a pay cut is another shortcoming of the current system. Fear is designed to be the continued motivation for the non-custodial parent.

What the study found to be unique was that respondents agreed across many boundaries. “You get that same result no matter what — if it’s about women and men, there’s no difference. High-income people and low-income people are the same, same pattern. If they’re Democrats and Republicans, no difference,” said Ira Ellman, an author of the study and professor of psychology and law at Arizona State University. “You get this result over and over again, it’s true in the U.K. also, so that’s a powerful result, I think.”

Is this study valid in your mind? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

The Child and Family Blog

The Fairness of Paternity Fraud

by Diane Dimond

kangaroo courtThere is a lot of unfairness in the world. The American justice system stands ready to counter that, right?

Not so fast.

When it comes to men and allegations of paternity, women have a decidedly upper hand. Whatever the woman claims in court most often becomes fact. And once a court has ruled on paternity and established child support, it can be next to impossible to change — even if a DNA test excludes the man from any possibility of parenthood.

Across the country, men of all ages, colors and social statuses have been ordered by family courts to pay child support for children that aren’t theirs.

dna test

In one infamous case in New Mexico, a man shelled out years of support for a daughter who never actually existed. His deceitful ex-wife simply told the court there was such a child, and no proof was ever requested.

Some victims of paternity fraud find out the truth while they are still married. In Michigan, Murray Davis discovered that two of his three children were actually fathered by his best friend. But by that time, the kids were nearly teenagers, well past the legal deadline for Davis to contest paternity in that state.

Carnell Smith, of Atlanta, Georgia, discovered that the daughter he’d been raising with his girlfriend wasn’t his. But the courts didn’t want to hear it. Smith was stuck. Like Davis, this falsely identified “father” began to lobby for changes in his state’s law.

Smith started a group called U.S. Citizens Against Paternity Fraud and got Georgia to join Ohio in being one of only two states that allow an unlimited time for a man to challenge paternity as long as the child support case is open.

Many states require a man to file a challenge before the child’s third birthday. The federal law gives a man just 60 days.

chronic-stress“That’s pretzel logic, isn’t it?” Smith asked me. “Don’t tell a man the truth, and then penalize him for not correcting the record fast enough. Some men don’t realize what’s happened,” Smith said, “until they are under water with child support payments and then have no money to pay an attorney to fight for them.”

Also working against the wronged man is the Bradley Amendment, a federal law that prohibits state judges from retroactively modifying child support orders.

None of it sounds fair, does it? But it happens all the time. Judicial reasoning ranges from, “it’s in the best interest of the child,” to, “he didn’t challenge the paternity claim immediately.”

Carnell Alexander of Detroit has been under a court-ordered cloud for nearly 30 years.

graft and corruption doctorIn 1987, his ex-girlfriend applied for welfare to support her new baby. She put Alexander’s name down as the father even though he wasn’t. A process server swore he served Alexander with papers demanding he appear in court, so when Alexander didn’t show up, he was declared a “deadbeat dad.”

Truth is, Alexander was never notified. He was in prison at the time on an unrelated charge stemming from a youthful crime. He didn’t find out about his problem until a traffic stop in 1991.

The mother in question now admits, “Everything is my fault.” She told a Detroit TV station, “He shouldn’t have to pay it at all. I want everything to go away for him so he can get on with his life.”

Despite the mother’s lies to the state, despite a definitive DNA test excluding Alexander as the father, he still owes $30,000 in support for, as he puts it, “A child that I did not father … that I was not involved in raising.” He adds, “It is not fair.”

There’s that phrase again. It is not fair.

baby moneyMurray Davis, who established the National Family Justice Association after his painful experience, says Alexander, “Is only one among tens of thousands in this state and possibly hundreds of thousands or millions around the nation who are victims of this abhorrent crime of paternity fraud.”

Fair seems rare in these cases, but a creative-thinking judge in Virginia found a way around that pesky Bradley Amendment. He ruled that a defrauded man who still legally owed $23,000 in back child support could pay it off at a rate of one dollar a year — for 1, 917 years! You gotta love that.

This kind of fraud happens to young men going off to college, to soldiers going overseas, to men of all ages and occupations. And it ruins lives. Biological children of the falsely identified, new wives, grandparents and others are all profoundly affected by paternity fraud.

Having the best interest of a child in mind is knowing the child’s lineage and medical history. The best interest of society is to have a respected family court that is fair to all.

DNA tests cost about $30 these days. It’s time for automatic court-ordered DNA testing in all child-support cases.

overthrow

Make Fatherhood a Man’s Choice!

The burden of pregnancy will never be fair. Child support can be — but men need to have a chance to opt out

by Anna March

pregnancy testMY MOTHER WAS unable to obtain an illegal abortion, though she tried, in 1967 when she learned she was pregnant with me.  Instead, she attempted paternity fraud—passing me off to her boyfriend as his child though I was actually fathered by another man.  Her boyfriend, who became my putative father, married her and then clued in when I was born, totally healthy, three months “prematurely.”  He went along with it, though. They divorced when I was six years old, but he paid child support until I was eighteen, $270 a month.  I’m a product of child support, and it was a necessary part of the financial picture for me and my Mom, who did not have a college education and often worked two jobs during my childhood.  My mother would race home from work, check the mail, and, when the check was there, we would go to the drive-in window, open until 7 pm, at the local branch of the Union Trust bank to deposit the check. Then she would get $20 cash back (this was the days before ATMs) and we would splurge on a pizza at the neighborhood Italian place next door.  On the way home we’d swing by the post office and she’d mail the envelopes with checks she’d been holding in her purse for days to C & P Telephone and to PEPCO for the electric and to Washington Gas. The next day came the grocery store. The connection was very clear: the bills didn’t get paid without the child support. The food didn’t get put on the table without the check from “dad.”

Despite all of this and in complete keeping with my deep-seated feminism, I believe that making fatherhood optional—as motherhood is—and revamping the child support system to stop requiring financial support from noncustodial parents (usually men) who want to opt out early is good for women, men, and the kids in question. In addition, we should further our support of women who choose to opt out of motherhood via abortion or adoption as well.  It’s time to make parenthood a true choice, on every level.

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Over the past fifteen years, some feminists have argued that ending the current child support system is an important social issue. In the October 19, 2000 issue of Salon,Cathy Young argued that women’s freedom to choose parenthood is a reproductive right men do not have but should. Her article, “A Man’s Right to Choose,” identifies abortion rights and adoption as options that allow women greater sexual freedom than men when a sexual encounter results in conception.  While there are alternatives to parental responsibility for women, for men, “in the eyes of the law, it seems that virtually no circumstances, however bizarre or outrageous, can mitigate the biological father’s liability for child support.” Kerrie Thornhill’s article “A Feminist Argument Against Child Support” in the July 18, 2011 issue of Partisans picks up this point, arguing that where birth control and safe abortion are legally available, choosing a sexual encounter should be a different choice than choosing to be a parent. She offers a three-step replacement for the current child support system. First, Thornhill writes that “when informed of a partner’s pregnancy, a man should get a single, time-sensitive opportunity to choose fatherhood.” Second, by accepting, a man would assume all the responsibilities of fatherhood, but by declining he would legally be no different than a sperm donor. Finally, she suggests that for low-income families, state-funded child support should exist. In her article “Is Forced Fatherhood Fair?” for the June 12, 2013 edition of the New York Times, Laurie Shrage echoes Kerrie Thornhill’s sentiment when she opines, “In consenting to sex, neither a man nor a woman gives consent to become a parent.” She argues that if one believes that women shouldn’t be penalized for sexual activity by limiting options such as birth control, abortion, adoption, and safe haven laws (laws that provide a safe space for parents to give up babies), then men’s options shouldn’t be limited either. These writers all point out that motherhood should be a voluntary condition. Shrage and Thornhill agree that the construct that fatherhood after birth is mandatory needs to change.

Feminist response in opposition to the idea of giving men an opt-out of child support has been swift and passionate, including from many writers and publications I deeply respect. Pieces like Mary Elizabeth Williams’ “There Is No ‘Forced Fatherhood’ Crisis,” June 13, 2013, in Salon; Jill Filipovic’s June 17, 2013 blog post at Feministe titled “Is It Unfair to Force Men to Support Their Children?” ; and Meher Ahmad’s“’Forced Fatherhood’?  Yeah, Okay, Whatever” in Jezebel from June 13, 2013  all followed quickly on the heels of Laurie Shrage’s New York Times appearance. I have a deep admiration for all three of these writers and publications, yet take strong issues with each piece. Mary Elizabeth Williams tells a personal and compelling anecdote about how her father abandoned her family before she was born. She points out that this occurred before Roe v. Wade. Her story is a poignant example of why abortion and adoption need to be legal and available options, but it is a straw man as an argument against Laurie Shrage’s position. Shrage, along with Thornhill and Young, explicitly states that legal and available abortion is a necessary component of a woman’s reproductive autonomy and only suggests changing child support laws as a means to bring to men a similar reproductive autonomy to what women enjoy.  Filipovic wonders at what point a man should no longer be able to sever his parental rights. She doesn’t have to wonder, however, since Shrage both indicates that she is talking about obtaining informed consent at the time of assigning paternity but also states that child support makes sense in the case of divorce because a man already accepted the responsibility of fatherhood.  Ahmad goes so far as to acknowledge that the system is unfair to men, but argues that women face so much more unfairness that we shouldn’t care. Her claim that forced motherhood is more difficult than forced fatherhood is certainly true, given the burdens of pregnancy and childbirth. However, that inequity is not a reason to enact policy that forces fatherhood.

No one needs to make me understand how important child support is. I understand firsthand from my own childhood that child support is often a critical part of a child’s economic well-being or lack of same. The thing that keeps kids out of poverty keeps the food on the table. And beyond my own experience, the statistics on the importance of child support are unimpeachable—the money matters. However, I agree with the bulk of the points made in the pieces cited above that suggest we need to allow men an option out of fatherhood.  (To be clear, like these authors, I am not talking about cases in which people have decided to have a child together and then one person wants to opt out. I’m talking about a short window during pregnancy—so that women have enough time to make their own decision about which reproductive choice they are going to make in light of the man’s decision, in case that is a factor for them.) As Thornhill argues, men should have a window of time to decide whether or not they are going to sign up for fatherhood, and after that they will either be treated like a sperm donor or be held financially liable.  It’s close to parity with the choice women have—and fairness is a basic feminist value. Further, this system allows for women’s total reproductive autonomy and by doing so, we inherently advance women’s sexual and economic autonomy as well as strengthen feminism itself.   Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we improve the economic safety and well-being of any resultant children by ensuring adequate state support when necessary.

This system would forward the arguments for women’s reproductive autonomy by making women entirely responsible for the outcome of their choices. Of course, for this to work, we must encourage and enable women to make thoughtful choices about motherhood and reinforce abortion and adoption as available, valid choices. Currently, we tend to treat abortion with a literal whisper and adoption as an outlier. We shouldn’t automatically make the jump that a woman who is unable or unwilling to have an abortion for whatever reason will then have a baby who needs to be supported by her and a father—of course adoption remains a valid choice, even if we tend to dismiss it or ignore it in our rhetoric. We should reinforce our support for and demand for abortion rights—safe, affordable, accessible abortion on demand for all.

However, in the meantime, we should not use problems of access to and affordability of abortion as a reason that men must pay child support (i.e., that women can’t access abortion so they have to have and raise children and men therefore shouldn’t get off the “hook “either). Those women can utilize adoption.  It has always confused me that those who are in favor of holding men financially responsible for a child that results from a pregnancy do not attempt to hold men legally responsible for sharing the cost of abortion with a woman who decides to terminate her pregnancy.  I think men have a right to opt out of both, but if one argues that men are responsible for the outcome of a pregnancy they created, and abortion is the outcome, why don’t we pursue men for abortion costs?  Especially when, according to the National Network of Abortion Funds, more than 200,000 women a year in the U.S seek assistance with paying for their abortions.  The Network also points out that 4,000 women a year in the U.S. are denied abortions because they pass the legal gestational limit while trying to raise the funds. Why do we put men on the “hook” for children but not on the “hook” for abortions?

Additionally, lack of access to abortion doesn’t mean we should be unfair to men.  We need to stand by women’s reproductive freedom, no matter what choice a woman makes. And a woman who wants a child needs to be prepared to support that child even if the biological father is not willing.  I don’t believe that we will ever have true reproductive autonomy until men are offered the option, as women are, to opt out. We will never have full reproductive autonomy if we continue to put an asterisk next to “my body, my choice” and add the footnote “but if I decide to have a baby, pal, you have to pay.”

In the above mentioned Salon piece by Williams, she says, “I would love to live in a world in which no one is ever dragged kicking and screaming into parenthood. But that’s never going to happen.” Why not?  Women can opt out now—men should be able to as well.  Then we would live in a world where no one is dragged into parenthood.  Let us come to focus on that goal and not, as political philosopher Elizabeth Brake says on this issue, “fixate punitively” on getting men to pay.

And, as part of expanding our support of adoption as an option, we should expand our support of women utilizing safe haven laws.  Sometimes people say “outside of infant safe haven laws,” like Feministe did in the piece cited above, but let’s stop that. Let’s consider them a reasonable method of relinquishing parental rights, not merely a measure for the desperate.  As it stands, in most states, if a woman gives a child up for adoption via other methods, she and the father are still responsible for financial support until the child is adopted. (Safe haven laws vary state by state, but can typically be invoked for three to ninety days, with the average being about forty-five days. North Dakota allows up to one year.)

Perhaps consideration of the fact that it is a choice a woman makes to have a child rather than opting for abortion or adoption, not something beyond her control, will help us move our support of adoption past the wink-wink-nudge-nudge stage.  If a woman finds herself in need of economic assistance to raise her child, let us return that obligation fully to the state where it belongs, and was, until the conservative state decided to shift the burden to women’s sexual partners to reduce the welfare burden on government. Children’s economic welfare should not be tied to maternity or paternity.  The state needs to stop shirking its responsibility for its most vulnerable citizens—including kids.  Further, the one group of “fathers” the state is willing to exempt from child support are sperm donors, sending the message that it’s okay to have a kid and not support it if there was no sex, but if you get some pussy, you are going to pay. Let’s not support that model.

Bias Against Fathers in U.S. Custody & Child Support

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