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Divorced from Reality: Government Wants to End Your Marriage

“We’re from the Government, and We’re Here to End Your Marriage.”
by Stephen Baskerville

computer familyThe decline of the family has now reached critical and truly dangerous proportions. Family breakdown touches virtually every family and every American. It is not only the major source of social instability in the Western world today but also seriously threatens civic freedom and constitutional government.

G. K. Chesterton once observed that the family serves as the principal check on government power, and he suggested that someday the family and the state would confront one another. That day has arrived.

Chesterton was writing about divorce, and despite extensive public attention to almost every other threat to the family, divorce remains the most direct and serious. Michael McManus of Marriage Savers writes that “divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today’s challenge by gays.”

Most Americans would be deeply shocked if they knew what goes on today under the name of divorce. Indeed, many are devastated to discover that they can be forced into divorce by procedures entirely beyond their control. Divorce licenses unprecedented government intrusion into family life, including the power to sunder families, seize children, loot family wealth, and incarcerate parents without trial. Comprised of family courts and vast, federally funded social services bureaucracies that wield what amount to police powers, the divorce machinery has become the most predatory and repressive sector of government ever created in the United States and is today’s greatest threat to constitutional freedom.

Unilateral Divorce

burning the constitutionSome four decades ago, while few were paying attention, the Western world embarked on the boldest social experiment in its history. With no public discussion of the possible consequences, laws were enacted in virtually every jurisdiction that effectively ended marriage as a legal contract. Today it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family. The government can now, at the request of one spouse, simply dissolve a marriage over the objection of the other. Maggie Gallagher aptly titled her 1996 book The Abolition of Marriage.

This startling fact has been ignored by politicians, journalists, academics, and even family advocates. “Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue,” wrote Gallagher. “The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.” No American politician of national stature has ever challenged involuntary divorce. “Democrats did not want to anger their large constituency among women who saw easy divorce as a hard-won freedom and prerogative,” observes Barbara Whitehead in The Divorce Culture. “Republicans did not want to alienate their upscale constituents or their libertarian wing, both of whom tended to favor easy divorce, nor did they want to call attention to the divorces among their own leadership.”

In his famous denunciation of single parenthood, Vice President Dan Quayle was careful to make clear, “I am not talking about a situation where there is a divorce.” The exception proves the rule. When Pope John Paul II criticized divorce in 2002, he was roundly attacked from the right as well as the left.

The full implications of the “no-fault” revolution have never been publicly debated. “The divorce laws . . . were reformed by unrepresentative groups with very particular agendas of their own and which were not in step with public opinion,” writes Melanie Phillips in The Sex-Change Society. “Public attitudes were gradually dragged along behind laws that were generally understood at the time to mean something very different from what they subsequently came to represent.”

Today’s disputes over marriage in fact have their origin in this one. Demands to redefine marriage to include homosexual couples are inconceivable apart from the redefinition of marriage already effected by heterosexuals through divorce. Though gays cite the very desire to marry as evidence that their lifestyle is not inherently promiscuous, activist Andrew Sullivan acknowledges that that desire has arisen only because of the promiscuity permitted in modern marriage. “The world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50 percent divorce rates preceded gay marriage,” he points out. “All homosexuals are saying . . . is that, under the current definition, there’s no reason to exclude us. If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead. But until you do, the exclusion of gays is . . . a denial of basic civil equality” (emphasis added). Gays do not want traditional monogamous marriage, only the version debased by divorce.

Contrary to common assumptions, divorce today seldom involves two people mutually deciding to part ways. According to Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin in Divided Families, 80 percent of divorces are unilateral, that is, over the objection of one spouse. Patricia Morgan of London’s Civitas think tank reports that in over half of divorces, there was no recollection of major conflict before the separation.

Under “no-fault,” or what some call “unilateral,” divorce—a legal regime that expunged all considerations of justice from the procedure—divorce becomes a sudden power grab by one spouse, assisted by an army of judicial hangers-on who reward belligerence and profit from the ensuing litigation: judges, lawyers, psychotherapists, counselors, mediators, custody evaluators, social workers, and more.

If marriage is not wholly a private affair, as today’s marriage advocates insist, involuntary divorce by its nature requires constant government supervision over family life. Far more than marriage, divorce mobilizes and expands government power. Marriage creates a private household, which may or may not necessitate signing some legal documents. Divorce dissolves a private household, usually against the wishes of one spouse. It inevitably involves state functionaries—including police and jails—to enforce the divorce and the post-marriage order.

Almost invariably, the involuntarily divorced spouse will want and expect to continue enjoying the protections and prerogatives of private life: the right to live in the common home, to possess the common property, or—most vexing of all—to parent the common children. These claims must be terminated, using the penal system if necessary.

Onerous Implications

consentFew stopped to consider the implications of laws that shifted the breakup of private households from a voluntary to an involuntary process. Unilateral divorce inescapably involves government agents forcibly removing legally innocent people from their homes, seizing their property, and separating them from their children. It inherently abrogates not only the inviolability of marriage but the very concept of private life.

By far the most serious consequences involve children, who have become the principal weapons of the divorce machinery. Invariably the first action of a divorce court, once a divorce is filed, is to separate the children from one of their parents, usually the father. Until this happens, no one in the machinery acquires any power or earnings. The first principle and first action of divorce court therefore: Remove the father.

This happens even if the father is innocent of any legal wrongdoing and is simply sitting in his own home minding his own business. The state seizes control of his children with no burden of proof to justify why. The burden of proof (and the financial burden) falls on the father to demonstrate why they should be returned.

Though obfuscated with legal jargon (losing “custody”), what this means is that a legally unimpeachable parent can suddenly be arrested for seeing his own children without government authorization. Following from this, he can be arrested for failure or inability to conform to a variety of additional judicial directives that apply to no one but him. He can be arrested for domestic violence or child abuse, even if no evidence is presented that he has committed any. He can be arrested for not paying child support, even if the amount exceeds his means (and which may amount to most of his salary). He can even be arrested for not paying an attorney or a psychotherapist he has not hired.

The New York Times has reported on how easily “the divorce court leads to a jail cell.” Take the case of Marvin Singer, who was jailed without trial for not paying an attorney he never hired $100,000—only half of what the court claimed he “owes.” In Virginia, one father was ordered to pay two years’ worth of his salary to a lawyer he also did not hire for a divorce he did not request. Once arrested, the father is summarily jailed. There is no formal charge, no jury, and no trial.

Family court judges’ contempt for both fathers and constitutional rights was openly expressed by New Jersey municipal court judge Richard Russell: “Your job is not to become concerned about the constitutional rights of the man that you’re violating,” he told his colleagues at a judges’ training seminar in 1994. “Throw him out on the street. . . . We don’t have to worry about the rights.”

Generated Hysteria

unconstitutional law must goWhy do we hear almost nothing about this? Aside from media that sympathize with the divorce revolution, the multi-billion-dollar divorce industry also commands a huge government-funded propaganda machine that has distorted our view of what is happening.

The growth of the divorce machinery during the 1970s and 1980s did not follow but preceded (in other words, it generated) a series of hysterias against parents—especially fathers—so hideous and inflammatory that no one, left or right, dared question them or defend those accused: child abuse and molestation, wife-beating, and nonpayment of “child support.” Each of these hysterias has been propagated largely by feminists, bar associations, and social work bureaucracies, whose federal funding is generously shared with state and local law-enforcement officials.

The parent on the receiving end of such accusations—even in the absence of any formal charge, evidence, or conviction—not only loses his children summarily and often permanently; he also finds himself abandoned by friends and family members, parishioners and pastors, co-workers and employers (and he may well lose his job)—all terrified to be associated with an accused “pedophile,” “batterer,” or “deadbeat dad.”

It is not clear that these nefarious figures are other than bogeymen created by divorce interests, well aware that not only the public generally but conservatives and family advocates in particular are a soft touch when it comes to anything concerning irresponsible behavior or sexual perversion.

Christians are especially vulnerable to credulity about such accusations, because they are disposed to see moral breakdown behind social ills. Moral breakdown certainly does lie behind the divorce epidemic (of which more shortly), but it is far deeper than anything addressed by cheap witch-hunts against government-designated malefactors.

hillary-clintonIt is also largely credulity and fear that leads Congress by overwhelming majorities to appropriate billions for anti-family programs in response to these hysterias. The massive federal funds devoted to domestic violence, child abuse, and child-support enforcement are little more than what Phyllis Schlafly calls “feminist pork,” taxpayer subsidies on family dissolution that also trample due process protections. Family law may technically be the purview of states, but it is driven by federal policies and funded by a Congress fearful of accusations that it is not doing enough against pedophiles, batterers, and deadbeats.

In fact, each of these figures is largely a hoax, a creation of feminist ideology disseminated at taxpayers’ expense and unchallenged by journalists, academics, civil libertarians, and family advocates who are either unaware of the reality or cowed into silence. Indeed, so diabolical are these hysterias that some family advocates simply accept them as additional evidence of the family crisis.

But while sensational examples can be found of anything, there is simply no evidence that the family and fatherhood crisis is caused primarily or even significantly by fathers abandoning their families, beating their wives, and molesting their children. Irrefutable evidence indicates that it is driven almost entirely by divorce courts forcibly separating parents from their children and using these false accusations as a rationalization.

Divorce Gamesmanship

clintonsDuring the 1980s and 1990s, waves of child abuse hysteria swept America and other countries. Sensational cases in Washington state, California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ontario, Saskatchewan, the north of England, and more recently France resulted in torn-apart families, blatantly unjust prison sentences, and ruined lives, while the media and civil libertarians looked the other way.

Today it is not clear that we have learned anything from these miscarriages of justice. If anything, the hysteria has been institutionalized in the divorce courts, where false allegations have become routine.

What is ironic about these witch-hunts is the fact that it is easily demonstrable that the child abuse epidemic—which is very real—is almost entirely the creation of feminism and the welfare bureaucracies themselves. It is well established by scholars that an intact family is the safest place for women and children and that very little abuse takes place in married families. Child abuse overwhelmingly occurs in single-parent homes, homes from which the father has been removed. Domestic violence, too, is far more likely during or after the breakup of a marriage than among married couples.

Yet patently false accusations of both child abuse and domestic violence are rampant in divorce courts, almost always for purposes of breaking up families, securing child custody, and eliminating fathers. “With child abuse and spouse abuse you don’t have to prove anything,” the leader of a legal seminar tells divorcing mothers, according to the Chicago Tribune. “You just have to accuse.”

arrestAmong scholars and legal practitioners it is common knowledge that patently trumped-up accusations are routinely used, and virtually never punished, in divorce and custody proceedings. Elaine Epstein, president of the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association, writes that “allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage” in custody cases. The Illinois Bar Journal describes how abuse accusations readily “become part of the gamesmanship of divorce.” The UMKC Law Review reports on a survey of judges and attorneys revealing that disregard for due process and allegations of domestic violence are used as a “litigation strategy.” In the Yale Law Review, Jeannie Suk calls domestic violence accusations a system of “state-imposed de facto divorce” and documents how courts use unsupported accusations to justify evicting Americans from their homes and children.

The multi-billion dollar abuse industry has become “an area of law mired in intellectual dishonesty and injustice” writes David Heleniak in the Rutgers Law Review. Domestic violence has become “a backwater of tautological pseudo-theory,” write Donald Dutton and Kenneth Corvo in the scholarly journal Aggression and Violent Behavior. “No other area of established social welfare, criminal justice, public health, or behavioral intervention has such weak evidence in support of mandated practice.”

Feminists confess as much in their vociferous opposition to divorce reform. A special issue of the feminist magazine Mother Jones in 2005 ostensibly devoted to domestic violence focuses largely on securing child custody.

Both child abuse and domestic violence have no precise definitions. Legally they are not adjudicated as violent assault, and accused parents do not enjoy the constitutional protections of criminal defendants. Allegations are “confirmed” not by jury trials but by judges or social workers. Domestic violence is any conflict within an “intimate relationship” and need not be actually violent or even physical. Official definitions include “extreme jealousy and possessiveness,” “name calling and constant criticizing,” and “ignoring, dismissing, or ridiculing the victim’s needs.”

For such “crimes” fathers lose their children and can be jailed. “Protective orders” separating parents from their children are readily issued during divorce proceedings, usually without any evidence of wrongdoing. “Restraining orders and orders to vacate are granted to virtually all who apply,” and “the facts have become irrelevant,” writes Epstein. “In virtually all cases, no notice, meaningful hearing, or impartial weighing of evidence is to be had.”

Cycle of Abuse

stressed single motherTrumped-up accusations are thus used to create precisely the single-parent homes in which actual abuse is most likely to occur. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Children of single parents had a 77% greater risk of being harmed by physical abuse, an 87% greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect, and an 80% greater risk of suffering serious injury or harm from abuse or neglect than children living with both parents.” Britain’s Family Education Trust reports that children are up to 33 times more likely to be abused in a single-parent home than in an intact family.

The principal impediment to child abuse is thus precisely the figure whom the welfare and divorce bureaucracies are intent on removing: the father. “The presence of the father . . . placed the child at lesser risk for child sexual abuse,” concludes a 2000 study published in Adolescent and Family Health. “The protective effect from the father’s presence in most households was sufficiently strong to offset the risk incurred by the few paternal perpetrators.” In fact, the risk of “paternal perpetrators” is miniscule, since a tiny proportion of sexual abuse (which is far less common than physical abuse) is committed by natural fathers, though government statistics lump them in with boyfriends and stepfathers to make it appear that incest is widespread.

Despite the innuendos of child abuse advocates, it is not married fathers but single mothers who are most likely to injure or kill their children. “Contrary to public perception,” write Patrick Fagan and Dorothy Hanks of the Heritage Foundation, “research shows that the most likely physical abuser of a young child will be that child’s mother, not a male in the household.” Mothers accounted for 55 percent of all child murders according to a Justice Department report. HHS itself found that women aged 20 to 49 are almost twice as likely as men to be perpetrators of child maltreatment: “almost two-thirds were females.” Given that “male” perpetrators are not usually fathers but boyfriends or stepfathers, fathers emerge as by far the least likely child abusers.

stress single motherYet government logic is marvelously self-justifying and self-perpetuating, since by eliminating the father, officials can present themselves as the solution to the problem they have created. The more child abuse there is—whether by single mothers, boyfriends, or even (as is often the case) by social workers and bureaucrats themselves—the more the proffered solution is to further expand the child abuse bureaucracy.

Waxing indignant about a string of child deaths at the hands of social workers in the District of Columbia, federal judges and the Washington Post found solace in the D.C. government’s solution: to hire more social workers (and lawyers too, for some unspecified reason). “Olivia Golden, the Child and Family Services’ latest director . . . will use her increased budget to recruit more social workers and double the number of lawyers.” Children die at the hands of social workers, so we must hire more social workers.

Likewise, it is difficult to believe that judges are not aware that the most dangerous environment for children is precisely the single-parent homes they themselves create when they remove fathers in custody proceedings. Yet they have no hesitation in removing them, secure in the knowledge that they will never be held accountable for any harm that may come to the children. On the contrary, if they do not remove the fathers, they may be punished by the bar associations and social work bureaucracies whose funding depends on a constant supply of abused children.

A commonplace of political science is that bureaucracies relentlessly expand, often by creating the very problem they exist to address. Appalling as it sounds, the conclusion is inescapable that we have created a massive army of officials with a vested interest in child abuse.

Trafficking in Children

father-child-in-prisonThe child abuse industry also demonstrates how one threat to the family creates another. Just as the divorce revolution eventually led to the demand for same-sex “marriage,” the child abuse deception has led to demands for parenting by same-sex couples.

Most discussion of homosexual parenting has centered on questions of children’s welfare versus the rights of homosexuals. Few have questioned the politics whereby prospective homosexual parents obtain the children they wish to parent. Granting same-sex couples the right to raise children means, by definition, giving at least one of the partners the right to raise someone else’s children, and the question arises whether the original parent or parents ever agreed to part with them or did something to warrant losing them.

Current laws governing divorce, domestic violence, and child abuse render this question open. The explosion in foster care based on the assumed but unexamined need to find permanent homes for allegedly abused children has provided perhaps the strongest argument in favor of same-sex “marriage” and homosexual parenting. Yet the politics of child abuse and divorce indicate that this assumption is not necessarily valid.

The government-generated child abuse epidemic and the mushrooming foster care business that it feeds have allowed government agencies to operate what amounts to trafficking in children. A San Diego grand jury reports “a widely held perception within the community and even within some areas of the Department [of Social Services] that the Department is in the ‘baby brokering’ business.”

Introducing same-sex “marriage” and adoption into this political dynamic could dramatically increase the demand for children to adopt, thus intensifying pressure on social service agencies and biological parents to supply such children. While sperm donors and surrogate mothers supply some children for homosexual parents, most have been taken from their natural parents because of divorce, unwed parenting, child abuse accusations, or connected reasons.

Massachusetts Senator Therese Murray, claiming that 40 percent of the state’s adoptions have gone to gay and lesbian couples, rationalizes the practice by invoking “children who have been neglected, abandoned, abused by their own families.” But it is far from evident that these children are in fact victims of their own parents. What seems inescapable is that homosexual parenting has arisen as the direct and perhaps inevitable consequence of government officials getting into the business—which began largely with divorce—of distributing other people’s children.

Child-Support Racket

mob-rule-child-support-governmentThe “deadbeat dad” is another figure largely manufactured by the divorce machinery. He is far less likely to have deliberately abandoned offspring he callously sired than to be an involuntarily divorced father who has been, as attorney Jed Abraham writes in From Courtship to Courtroom, “forced to finance the filching of his own children.”

Child support is plagued by the same contradictions as child custody. Like custody, it is awarded ostensibly without reference to “fault,” and yet nonpayment brings swift and severe punishments. Contrary to popular belief, child support today has nothing to do with fathers abandoning their children, reneging on their marital vows, or even agreeing to divorce. It is automatically assessed on all non-custodial parents, even those divorced against their will who lose their children through no legal fault or agreement of their own. It is an entitlement for all single mothers, in other words, regardless of their behavior.

Originally justified as a method of recovering welfare costs, child support has been transformed into a massive federal subsidy on middle-class divorce. No-fault divorce allowed a mother to divorce her husband for any reason or no reason and to take the children with her. Child support took the process a step further by allowing the divorcing mother to use the now-fatherless children to claim her husband’s income—also regardless of any fault on her part (or lack of fault on his) in abrogating the marriage agreement.

By glancing at a child-support schedule, a mother can determine exactly how large a tax-free windfall she can force her husband to pay her simply by divorcing, money she may spend however she wishes with no accounting requirement. It is collected at gunpoint if necessary, and nonpayment means incarceration without trial.

child support loaded gunLike the welfare it was supposed to replace, child support finances family dissolution by paying mothers to divorce. Economist Robert Willis calculates that child-support levels vastly exceeding the cost of raising children create “an incentive for divorce by the custodial mother.” His analysis indicates that only one-fifth to one-third of child-support payments are actually used for the children; the rest is profit for the custodial parent. Kimberly Folse and Hugo Varela-Alvarez write in the Journal of Socio-Economics that child support serves as an “economic incentive for middle-class women to seek divorce.”

Mothers are not the only ones who can profit by creating fatherless children. Governments also generate revenue from child support. State governments receive federal funds for every child-support dollar collected—money they can add to their general funds and use for any purpose they choose. This gives states a financial incentive to create as many single-parent households as possible by encouraging middle-class divorce. While very little child support—or government revenue—is generated from the impecunious young unmarried fathers for whom the program was ostensibly created, involuntarily divorced middle-class fathers have deeper pockets to loot.

dollar bondageThis is why state governments set child support at onerous levels. Not only does it immediately maximize their own revenues; by encouraging middle-class women to divorce, governments increase the number of fathers sending dollars through their systems, thus generating more revenue. Federal taxpayers (who were supposed to save money) subsidize this family destruction scheme with about $3 billion annually. “Child support guidelines currently in use typically generate awards that are much higher than would be the case if based on economically sound cost concepts,” writes Mark Rogers, an economist who served on the Georgia Commission on Child Support. Rogers charges that guidelines result in “excessive burdens” based on a “flawed economic foundation.” The Urban Institute reports that arrearages accrue because “orders are set too high relative to ability to pay.” Federal officials have admitted that the more than $90 billion in arrearages they claimed as of 2004 were based on awards that were beyond the parents’ ability to pay.

All this marks a new stage in the evolution of the welfare state: from distributing largesse to raising revenue and, from there, to law enforcement. The result is a self-financing machine, generating profits and expanding the size and scope of government—all by generating single-parent homes and fatherless children. Government has created a perpetual growth machine for destroying families, seizing children from legally blameless parents, and incarcerating parents without trial.

Responsibility of Churches

empty-pockets-robbed-court-orderWhile many factors have contributed to this truly diabolical, bureaucratic onslaught against the family, we might begin by looking within. The churches’ failure or refusal to intervene in the marriages they consecrated and to exert moral pressure on misbehaving spouses (perhaps out of fear of appearing “judgmental”) left a vacuum that has been filled by the state. Clergy, parishioners, and extended families have been replaced by lawyers, judges, forensic psychotherapists, social workers, and plainclothes police.

Family integrity will be restored only when families are de-politicized and protected from government invasion. This will demand morally vigorous congregations that are willing to take marriage out of the hands of the state by intervening in the marriages they are called upon to witness and consecrate and by resisting the power of the state to move in. This is the logic behind the group Marriage Savers, and it can restore the churches’ authority even among those who previously viewed a church’s role in their marriage as largely ceremonial.

No greater challenge confronts the churches—nor any greater opportunity to reverse the mass exodus—than to defend their own marriage ordinance against this attack from the government. Churches readily and rightly mobilize politically against moral evils like abortion and same-sex “marriage,” in which they are not required to participate. Even more are they primary stakeholders in involuntary divorce, which allows the state to desecrate and nullify their own ministry.

As an Anglican, I am acutely aware of how far modernity was ushered in not only through divorce, but through divorce processes that served the all-encompassing claims of the emerging state leviathan. Politically, this might be seen as the “original sin” of modern man. We all need to atone.

from Touchstone Magazine

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

Rethinking Child Support Policy Toward Low-income Noncustodial Fathers and Their Families

by Tonya L. Brito

burning the constitutionSince September 2005, Michael Turner has been incarcerated on six different occasions for nonpayment of child support. His prison terms total over three years in jail. He currently owes over $20,000 in unpaid child support, and while he remains in prison on his current sentence, he will accumulate even more debt that he is unable to pay. After his release, South Carolina’s automated case processing machinery will issue another order to show cause. At the hearing the court will ask Turner why he should not again be held in contempt because of his failure to pay the outstanding arrearage. Absent an unforeseen circumstance that bestows $20,000 on Turner making it possible for him to pay off the arrears, it is virtually certain that he will be civilly incarcerated for the seventh time and that this cycle will continue.

Turner’s experience with the child support system is all too common. Other poor noncustodial fathers report similar dystopian experiences. A noncustodial father who participated in a research study focus group explained:

I’m just tired of getting locked up every so often, every eight months or so. I don’t have no bad record, no record at all. But I keep getting locked up for child support, that’s the main thing.”

In South Carolina, where Michael Turner was incarcerated, child support obligors imprisoned for civil contempt comprise approximately thirteen to sixteen percent of the jail population. It seems a pointless expenditure of state resources to repeatedly arrest poor fathers, jail them for nonpayment of child support, then later release them (when either the law requires their release or the court eventually concludes that civil incarceration is not succeeding in coercing compliance with child support orders), and repeat the cycle all over again.

Few would imagine that the child support system views as consistent with its mission the practice of repeated civil incarcerations of fathers like Michael Turner, whose indigence prevents them from paying their crushing child support debts. Indeed, Turner’s jail terms undoubtedly do far more to hinder his efforts to find stable employment than they do to provide economic security to his children. However, across the United States, destitute noncustodial parents are incarcerated for failing to meet child support obligations they have no means to pay. The end result is that indigent child support debtors fill jails across the country.

Although child support law and policy is targeted at so-called deadbeat dads who have the ability to pay but choose not to, the prison door continues to revolve for poor noncustodial fathers who are unable to pay. Inflexible application of child support collection and enforcement measures designed to ensure that child support payments are automatic and inescapable, no matter the circumstances, lead to this devastating phenomenon when applied to the chronically poor. Although effective in securing payments from noncustodial parents with the means to pay, the impact of these reforms on no- and low-income noncustodial parents and their families has been disproportionate and destructive.

indigent in AmericaToday, noncustodial parents who live in poverty owe the vast majority of child support owed in the United States. These parents lack the means to pay their child support debt, yet they experience the full panoply of enforcement measures, including civil incarceration for nonpayment of support. Ironically, low-income noncustodial parents who lack the ability to pay their child support debts are more likely to face incarceration than are the more culpable noncustodial parents who have the means to pay child support but refuse to pay. This is because other routine and less severe enforcement measures, such as wage garnishment, are effective in securing support from those with the means to pay.

Furthermore, poor noncustodial fathers lack the resources to hire lawyers to represent them in their contempt proceedings and press their defense of inability to comply with court orders. When states charge indigent fathers criminally for failure to pay child support, courts appoint counsel for the fathers. However, because states may seek to enforce delinquent child support orders through civil contempt rather than criminal charges, many indigent fathers do not receive appointed counsel. In Turner v. Rogers, Michael Turner argued that South Carolina’s denial of his request for appointed counsel in a nonpayment civil contempt proceeding with the possibility of incarceration violated the U.S. Constitution. Although the Supreme Court held that South Carolina’s procedures did not satisfy the Due Process Clause, the Court refused to find that indigent obligors categorically have a constitutional right to counsel in civil contempt proceedings in child support cases, even when there is a possibility of incarceration. In the absence of a right to counsel, it is almost certain that no- and low-income child support obligors will not be able to effectively assert the defense of inability to comply and will continue to be improperly incarcerated.

This Article highlights Michael Turner’s experience with the child support system to illuminate the experience of thousands of poor fathers exactly like him. Rather than the due process and right to counsel questions addressed in Turner v. Rogers, this Article presents other, more foundational and difficult problems that were not litigated in Turner’s Supreme Court case. Part II provides an overview of the historical development of the federal-state child support program and its interrelationship with the public welfare system. It demonstrates how the governmental interest in welfare cost recoupment has influenced public policy and law surrounding child support enforcement and further traces the changes that have strengthened the private child support system while reducing poor families’ reliance on government cash assistance.

Part III explores the systemic policies and practices of the child support system that operate to create a revolving prison door for no- and low-income fathers who are under an order of child support. Part III then reviews the empirical evidence regarding the economic status and employment capabilities of disadvantaged fathers. It further chronicles their experience with the child support system, from the establishment of unrealistically high child support orders to the accumulation of onerous arrearages and ultimately, the application of punitive and unwarranted enforcement measures (including imprisonment). In concluding, Part III argues that this approach to secure child support payments from disadvantaged noncustodial fathers has not only been largely ineffective but has also produced unintended consequences that run counter to the goal of improving the economic well-being of poor children.

Part IV proposes a novel approach to child support enforcement in poor families. It contemplates a change in program priorities such that the goal of providing economic support to poor children is made paramount, even if this shift is made at the expense of pursuing the dual (and often conflicting) goal of welfare cost recoupment. With this enhanced commitment to children’s economic needs in mind, Part IV presents a multi-pronged alternative scheme for child support. First, the scheme proposes reforms to the child support system to ensure that disadvantaged fathers’ child support orders realistically reflect their income potential and capacity to pay. Second, the scheme provides for significant government investments in effective capacity building strategies, including education, job training, and other work-related supports, so that disadvantaged fathers are better able to meet their child support responsibilities. Part IV recognizes that implementing the first two prongs of this proposal may not succeed in achieving the goal of securing sufficient private support for poor children. Given the intractable systemic barriers to secure employment that disadvantaged fathers experience and their particular vulnerability to broader economic downturns, Part IV also imagines a more robust public-private sharing of financial responsibility for poor children. Under this vision, private support of poor children would be complemented by, rather than substituted for, public support. More specifically, Part IV proposes a system that provides resources to children and their families so that, coupled with private family resources, the children are guaranteed a minimum level of economic security. This public benefit would operate to ensure a child support floor so that, paired with court-ordered child support payments, the funds would lift poor single mothers and their children above the poverty threshold.

II. Child Support, Public Welfare, and the Shift from Public to Private Responsibility for Poor Children’s Economic Needs

unconstitutional income grabberThe federal child support program originates in, and is historically linked to, the public welfare system. Indeed, the passage of the first federal law in this area, the Child Support Act of 1974, was prompted by concerns about sharp increases in government welfare expenditures on behalf of poor women and their children. As part of the Social Security Act of 1935, Congress established the federal welfare system, Aid to Dependent Children (later renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC), a means-tested cash assistance program. AFDC was modeled on the then existing Mothers’ Pension welfare programs, which states established between 1910 and 1920. At that time, advocates for government aid for poor mothers and children championed the value of mothering and argued that mothers would best serve their children’s well-being by caring for them in their own homes. These advocates urged that without government aid to poor mothers and children, family destitution would result, causing institutionalization of children in orphanages, child neglect due to maternal employment outside the home, or the children themselves working long hours in factories alongside their mothers. Like Mothers’ Pensions, AFDC provided small cash benefits to poor single mothers. However, eligibility was broadened under AFDC. While Mothers’ Pensions were primarily reserved for widows, mothers qualified for AFDC assistance if the family lacked a male wage earner because of death, desertion, or incapacity.

In practice, however, local welfare officials did not base their eligibility determinations under AFDC solely on applicants’ economic needs. From the 1940s through the early 1960s, applying morals means tests, caseworkers limited welfare caseloads by ensuring that only the most deserving mothers received benefits. States defined eligibility criteria narrowly, and applying suitable home, man in the house, and substitute father rules, AFDC caseworkers exercised considerable discretion, by subjecting applicants and recipients of AFDC benefits to intrusive and judgmental supervision of their parenting, morals, and home environment. Nonmarital cohabitation and childbirth were among the most common restrictions, and caseworkers conducted surprise visits to welfare recipients’ homes in the middle of the night in order to find out if there was a man in the house. Termination or reduction of benefits was often the penalty when caseworkers determined that mothers violated these rules.

The 1960s brought an end to these exclusionary practices. Challenges by activists and lawyers succeeded in dismantling the arbitrary barriers to welfare access. Welfare became a statutory right, and welfare agencies applied a uniform means test to determine applicants’ eligibility for benefits. Welfare caseloads quickly soared, and in a ten-year period (from 1961 to 1971), the number of recipients increased threefold (from 3.5 million to 11 million). The expanded rolls of welfare recipients included so many Black single mothers that by 1961 the AFDC program, which had been eighty-nine percent White in 1939, became forty-four percent Black. Another significant demographic shift in the welfare population was the marital status of recipients. Whereas the majority of recipients previously were widowed mothers, by 1961, widowed mothers made up less than eight percent of the welfare caseload, and instead, the typical recipient was more likely to be divorced, separated, or never married.

Increased welfare costs resulting from the tremendous growth in caseloads as well as the shifting demographics of recipients drew public attention, and politicians made calls for reform. Critics viewed the exponential increase in welfare expenditures as problematic, particularly because public monies were being provided to unworthy single mothers. Also, because recipients were more likely to be divorced or never married than in years past, policymakers began to view absent fathers as the individuals ultimately responsible for the increase in welfare costs and looked to them as a potential source of economic support for the families. Congress’s desire to reduce AFDC costs motivated its interest in increasing support from fathers.

The federal government thus ventured into the arena of child support with the passage of the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1974, which established the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) and mandated the creation of state-level counterparts administered in compliance with specific federal guidelines. Importantly, the Act required that custodial AFDC parents assign to the state their rights to collect child support payments and that the funds collected on behalf of AFDC families be used to reimburse the government for welfare benefits paid to the families. If AFDC families did not have a support order in place, they were required to cooperate with states’ efforts to establish support orders by, among other things, identifying putative fathers in cases of nonmarital births. Additionally, states used all child support collected on behalf of AFDC families to reimburse the government for the cost of welfare expenditures. Consequently, for AFDC families, whether the noncustodial parents paid child support did not matter, because their financial situation remained the same either way.

Amendments to the Child Support Act in 1984 and 1988 further expanded the Act’s scope. The amendments allowed non-welfare families use of state child support offices’ services and required states to strengthen paternity establishment, create and utilize child support guidelines in setting orders, and implement wage withholding to increase collections. Moreover, the 1984 enactment established a distribution scheme for child support collected on behalf of AFDC families. Specifically, families received the first fifty dollars of child support collected, and the federal and state governments shared any remaining funds necessary to reimburse themselves for welfare benefits paid to the families. The purpose of this change in the law, referred to as a pass through of current child support collected, was to incentivize parental cooperation with the child support system while continuing the practice of offsetting welfare expenditures.

Despite the efforts of these wide-ranging provisions, improvements in child support enforcement were only modest, and collections overall were insufficient. In light of these deficiencies, calls for reform of the child support system intensified and arose alongside a broader debate concerning overhaul of the federal welfare system. Unlike other aspects of welfare reform, members of both political parties enthusiastically joined the crusade to crack down on delinquent fathers. Although both parties supported the idea of tougher child support enforcement, conservatives and liberals had different goals in mind. Conservatives emphasized the need to get tough on absent fathers by requiring them to live up to their financial responsibilities to their children. Liberals and moderates, on the other hand, tended to emphasize the goal of utilizing child support to enhance the financial well-being of low-income single-parent households.

Much public attention was focused on the economic plight of single-mother families and the failure of absent fathers to provide for their children. The figures were sobering. Nearly half of all single mothers and their children lived in poverty, and about the same number relied on welfare to make ends meet. They received almost no financial assistance from noncustodial fathers. Most fathers did not pay any child support whatsoever, and for those who did, the amounts were meager. Even more troubling was data regarding child support receipt in single-parent households. In 1994, as the public, policymakers, and Congress debated competing proposals for welfare reform, only twelve and one-half percent of single-parent families receiving welfare were also receiving child support. Advocates for reform, including liberals, conservatives, and even some feminists, believed that the availability of child support from noncustodial fathers would raise some families above the poverty threshold.

captiveAgainst this backdrop, the child support reforms of 1996 were propelled by widespread societal hostility toward deadbeat dads, a term that was applied indiscriminately to all noncustodial fathers who were delinquent on their payments. The public viewed nonpaying fathers as men who could afford to pay child support but flagrantly chose not to pay, depriving their children of desperately needed economic support. Political leaders contributed to the heated rhetoric. Days before signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), President Clinton, who pledged to end welfare as we know it, threatened deadbeat dads that the government would be relentless in its pursuit of them for past due child support. He warned: [I] f you owe child support, you better pay it. If you deliberately refuse to pay it, you can find your face posted in the Post Office. We’ll track you down with computers . . . . We’ll track you down with law enforcement. We’ll find you through the Internet. State agencies followed through on these threats and went so far as to post wanted ads of fathers who failed to support their children. Subsequent media coverage of deadbeat dads fueled public outrage, particularly because the popular image conveyed was that of a father who enjoyed an affluent standard of living yet shirked his child support obligation while his children lived in abject poverty.

In 1996, Congress passed sweeping reforms of the federal welfare and child support enforcement systems. The new welfare law, PRWORA, ended AFDC and replaced it with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a federal block grant program. TANF abolished the entitlement to benefits under AFDC, imposed strict work requirements on recipients in exchange for government assistance, established time limits on receipt of welfare benefits, and required states to sanction those who did not engage in work or work-related activities. The reforms imposing a time limit on receipt of benefits and eliminating the entitlement status of welfare benefits heightened the importance of child support as a supplemental economic resource for TANF families.

The unmistakable message underlying PRWORA was that poor mothers must go to work to support their children. To achieve the welfare-to-work goal, the law provided short-term cash benefits, employment-related services to address the labor market barriers that poor mothers experienced, and supports to enhance the likelihood that mothers would succeed in the workplace. The practical effect of these changes in welfare law was that poor children and their families could no longer rely on a long-term cash benefit.

Today, the government safety net is a system of supports focused on helping poor custodial parents (primarily mothers) find and maintain jobs. The system includes services that help individuals find paid work (such as job placement assistance, job training, and subsidized work experiences) and supports that subsidize low-wage employment (such as child care assistance, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)). The rationale for the expanded income security measures was an effort to make work pay, so that single mothers leaving welfare for work would be better off financially than those who remained on welfare. For low-wage custodial mothers, packaging post-tax, post-transfer income with other non-cash government benefits and regular child support payments greatly enhanced their ability to provide for their children.

The child support enforcement amendments in PRWORA were as extensive and far-reaching as the welfare reforms. Indeed, when President Clinton signed PRWORA, he stated: For a lot of women and children, . . . the only reason they’re on welfare today–the only reason–is that the father up and walked away when he could have made a contribution to the welfare of the children. The primary purpose of these reforms was to improve the operation of child support systems so that those systems could collect more money from noncustodial fathers to assist single mothers in the process of moving from welfare to work. The reforms also advanced the goal of welfare cost recovery: the government practice of seeking reimbursement of welfare costs through child support enforcement. Central features of the law included enhanced procedures for establishing paternity in nonmarital births, implementation of a national directory of newly hired employees that child support agencies could use to locate non-payers, and streamlined administrative procedures. Additionally, PRWORA gave states more discretion regarding how to allocate child support payments received on behalf of TANF families, no longer mandating that states pass through the first fifty dollars per month of payments to recipient families directly.

Another significant systemic change in PRWORA was the implementation of mass case processing in lieu of judicial and quasi-judicial individualized proceedings. The enforcement system has been described as follows:

If we do not know where a father is, policymakers can find him in one of many available databases. If we do not know which man is the father of a particular child, administrative agencies can order DNA tests. Formulas spit out order awards, and remote computers assess award levels. Support is deducted from individuals’ paychecks before they even know it was there to begin with. And money is sent back to the recipient families, so that housing, food, and utility bills can all be paid on time.

Overall, the child support system became more automated and, particularly with respect to enforcement methods, more stringent and punitive. As some described it at the time, [t] he vision for child support enforcement that guided legislative development is that support payments should be automatic and inescapable.

This image of non-payers as deadbeats was fairly applied to the many well-to-do fathers whose children were suffering economically, but it did not take account of the twenty-six percent of noncustodial fathers who were themselves poor. When Congress enacted the welfare law, it was known that a number of child support obligors were so poor that they fell below the poverty threshold. When considering the reform proposals, policymakers and the media gave little thought to fathers with limited means to meet their child support obligations or how to help them meet their financial obligations to their children.

child support loaded gunPoor noncustodial fathers, characterized by some researchers as either deadbroke or as turnips, have limited abilities to provide economic support to their children. One empirical study found that twenty-three percent of noncustodial fathers are indeed unable nonpayers. About thirty percent of poor fathers who do not pay child support are incarcerated and the remainder experience some or all of the following barriers to employment: limited education, limited work experience, health problems, transportation barriers, and/or housing instability. The researchers’ conclusion–that it would be futile to pursue child support payments from these impoverished fathers –has been borne out. In other words, [noncustodial] fathers are rarely poor and paying child support (3 percent). Rather than providing assistance to attain job skills and employment so that these men are better able to pay support, unnecessarily harsh child support laws place the poorest fathers in an economically untenable position by setting child support orders at levels that exceed their capacity to pay and then later punishing them for shirking their responsibilities when they are inevitably delinquent.

III. Child Support Enforcement and Low-Income Fathers

baby moneyThis Part explores the experiences of no- and low-income fathers within the child support system. In brief, although poor fathers are expected to pay support (and very often at levels that are high relative to their earnings), collections from this population remain low. Low collections persist despite states’ employing aggressive and punitive enforcement strategies. This Part closely explores each aspect of this phenomenon. The analysis begins with the mechanism for establishing and modifying child support orders. It pays particular attention to guidelines governing low-income families and the application, in practice, of those guidelines to disadvantaged fathers. This Part next looks at the facts and figures concerning child support collections from poor fathers, examining not only to what extent they pay support, but also their capacities to pay given their actual earnings and opportunities for labor force participation. This Part next examines state enforcement strategies and their impact, and it finds that the child support system’s systemic policies and practices operate to create a revolving prison door for many disadvantaged noncustodial fathers. This Part concludes by arguing that the prevailing approach to securing child support payments has been largely ineffective at improving the economic well-being of poor children, and further, that many of the existing policies and practices work to undermine achievement of that goal.

A. Establishing Child Support Orders for Low-Income Fathers

disabled dadReforms to the child support system have resulted in ever-larger numbers of noncustodial parents under orders of support. The number of child support orders that states have established increased from 315,000 in 1978 to 1,100,000 in 2000. This trend continued during the last decade, with the number of child support orders increasing to 1,297,020 in 2010. This development is consistent with the widely held view and expectation that all parents, including poor parents, should contribute to the support of their children. Child support laws purport to treat all noncustodial parents alike in terms of holding them financially responsible for their children, and there is no exception that categorically excuses low-income fathers from this obligation.

State child support guidelines base the amount of the child support award on the noncustodial parent’s income (or the parent’s proportionate share of both parents’ income). Pursuant to the Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984, Congress required states to adopt statewide guidelines for establishing child support. Initially the guidelines were advisory; however, under the Family Support Act of 1988, the guidelines became mandatory and presumptively applied to all child support orders. Congress intended the numeric guidelines to promote consistent child support orders among families with similar circumstances and to reduce judicial discretion leading to disparate orders. The guidelines are intended to simplify the process of determining child support and to make outcomes more predictable. The guidelines operate as a rebuttable presumption, and should circumstances warrant, judges may deviate from the prescribed formula.

Each state may develop its own child support formula, but two formulas are most prevalent: the percentage-of-income formula and the income-shares formula. The percentage-of-income model is based on the child support guidelines enacted in Wisconsin. Under this framework, only the noncustodial parent’s income is considered when calculating the support order. States that use the percentage-of-income model may either require the obligor to pay a flat percentage of income or apply a varying percentage based on both the obligor’s income and the number and age of children the obligor supports. For example, under Wisconsin’s formula, noncustodial parents are required to pay seventeen percent of their gross income in child support for one child. The child support order increases to twenty-five percent for two children, twenty-nine percent for three children, thirty-one percent for four children, and thirty-four percent for five or more children. With this model, only the noncustodial parent’s income is directly factored into the child support calculation. Embodied in the percentage-of-income formula is a presumption that the custodial parent is contributing an appropriate amount through the ordinary course of parenting.

The income-shares model, by contrast, factors in the incomes of both the custodial and noncustodial parent. The formula first calculates the combined income of both parents and then estimates the amount spent on children by multiplying the parents’ total income by a percentage that varies with income and number of children. Once the total support amount is determined, each parent’s child support responsibility is determined by distributing the support amount between them based on his or her proportional share of the total parental income.

Because child support calculations are based on the income of the noncustodial parent, a low income would presumably yield a similarly low child support obligation. Indeed, recognizing the precarious economic situation of poor noncustodial parents, most state child support guidelines include alternative provisions for low-income payers. With respect to low-income payers, state guidelines take a variety of approaches. Under one approach, typically applied in situations in which the payer falls below the poverty threshold, the guidelines set a presumptive (and rebuttable) award of fifty dollars per month for each child. Under a similar approach, the guidelines do not establish a presumptive child support amount and leave the amount to judicial discretion. With both of these models, the guidelines provide discretionary decision-making, thus permitting a consideration of all relevant factors and determinations on a case-by-case basis.

Some states, like Wisconsin, have established special child support schedules that apply only to low-income cases. Wisconsin’s Low-Income Payer rule takes a graduated approach to determining child support obligations for payers whose incomes fall between seventy-five percent and one-hundred-fifty percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Within that income range, the percentage rates in the formula gradually increase as income increases. For example, assuming a child support order for one child, the obligor whose income is at seventy-five percent of the federal poverty guidelines would have an order set at 11.11% of his gross income. The guidelines apply gradually increasing percentages to gross income (to calculate the child support owed) until the full 17% of gross income formula is used to establish an order for those obligors with gross monthly incomes that equal one-hundred-fifty percent of the federal poverty guideline. In the case of obligors with income below seventy-five percent of the federal poverty guideline, courts have discretion in setting orders. Wisconsin guidelines provide that the court may set an order at an amount appropriate for the payer’s total economic circumstances.

Another approach to establishing child support orders for low-income payers is to set a minimum order (usually falling somewhere between twenty and fifty dollars). Because the minimum child support order is for a flat amount and cannot be adjusted downward regardless of the level of actual earnings, it is a higher percentage of income for those obligors with the lowest incomes than under a graduated approach. Even in cases where it is undisputed that the noncustodial father is unemployed and earns no salary, a minimum order may be set. Incarcerated fathers, in particular, have been negatively impacted where minimum orders are set and the fathers lack opportunities to earn wages. This practice reflects the policy views that no parents, even very poor parents, should be excused from the legal obligation to support their children and that establishing an award will encourage fathers to make every effort to comply with their support obligations. Unfortunately, this practice results in poor fathers becoming even more impoverished when courts order them to pay support in amounts greater than they can afford.

Finally, the self-support reserve is an approach used in a number of states. It operates to set aside a portion of a payer’s income to cover minimal, basic living expenses. The child support award is then calculated based on the remaining income. This approach allows low-income noncustodial parents to retain a portion of their income so that they may maintain at least a subsistence level of living.

Unfortunately, the existence of alternative low-income parent rules does not solve the dilemma of determining the appropriate level of child support to order in cases involving indigent fathers. In practice, the amount of child support that courts actually order no- and low-income fathers to pay often bears no relationship to their actual incomes and far exceeds their abilities to pay. This mismatch between award amounts and low-income fathers’ financial means results from several systemic practices, including: establishing default orders, courts imputing income when setting support orders, adding additional costs that the state incurred before the initial child support order was established, and courts failing to modify existing orders downward when circumstances warrant.

1. Default Orders and Imputed Income

kangaroo courtThe child support guidelines states use to set awards base child support on parents’ earned incomes. Often, however, courts establish the child support order for no- and low-income fathers based on imputed earnings rather than actual earnings. The rationale underlying child support imputation of income regulations is that imputation addresses situations where obligors either underreport their incomes or are intentionally underemployed. In imputing income to noncustodial fathers, courts make assumptions about how much the fathers earn or should earn. Generally, a court imputes to the obligor the ability to earn minimum wage and assumes a full-time, forty-hour week, which overestimates the income of low-income parents who lack stable employment and often work fewer than forty hours per week.

Courts typically impute income and enters a default order when a noncustodial father does not appear for his child support hearing. Many disadvantaged fathers are not even aware of the initial proceedings and fail to appear in court because, due to their poverty and insecure living arrangements, they do not receive a copy of their summons. If they fail to appear, courts enter default paternity establishments and child support orders.

Fathers who receive actual notice may, nonetheless, fail to appear at their court hearings. In a number of qualitative empirical studies, Professor David Pate interviewed low-income noncustodial fathers about their experiences with the child support system. The studies show that disadvantaged fathers fail to participate in child support proceedings for a number of reasons. First, some fathers complained about the negative reception they perceived in the Milwaukee courthouse because they were viewed as deadbeat dads. Second, they do not appreciate the consequences (the entry of default orders and significant financial obligations) of failing to appear at their court hearings.

The establishment of child support orders by default is widespread and contributes to the problem of large arrearages. For example, in 2000, 70 percent of the noncustodial parents with arrears [in California] had their awards established by default. Even when an obligor appears for his proceeding and has valid defenses to the imputation of income, without attorney representation, it is very unlikely that he will be effective in providing evidence about his income and inability to pay.

The practice of setting minimum child support orders and/or default orders can, particularly in the case of very low- and no-income fathers, leads to an overestimation of the actual income of low- and no-income fathers who are unemployed or underemployed, working intermittently or on a part-time basis. Consequently, the resulting child support order is high relative to the fathers’ actual incomes. This further causes the build-up of onerous child support debt, which further burdens disadvantaged fathers.

2. Retroactive Support Orders and Debt

dollar bondageOn top of inflated orders resulting from imputed income and minimum awards, fathers of children receiving welfare are often required to reimburse states for additional welfare costs the states incurred before courts established the initial child support orders. Many states charge . . . arrearages . . . immediately with the imposition of retroactive child support that dates as far back as the birth of the child in some states, or in others, to the beginning of welfare receipt. Additionally, courts may require fathers to reimburse the costs of welfare benefits previously paid to their families. Courts may add Medicaid childbirth costs to initial orders as well. Other add-ons include fees for paternity testing, litigation costs, interest on the arrearages owed, and penalties for not paying.

As a result, at the time court sets an order, the order is front-loaded with welfare costs (sometimes in the thousands of dollars) that the court retroactively imposes on noncustodial fathers. Coupled with imputed earnings, these practices result in child support orders that often exceed fifty percent of reported earnings among low-income fathers and burden them with unmanageable child support arrearages from the outset.

3. Failure To Modify Child Support Orders

police on cameraPoor noncustodial fathers are also unlikely to have courts adjust their child support orders downward to reflect detrimental changes in their financial circumstances, such as job loss or decreased earnings. State child support guidelines allow parents to seek modification of their child support orders upon a showing that there has been substantial change in their circumstances that warrants adjustment. The obligor’s involuntary unemployment or underemployment typically qualifies as the type of substantial change in circumstances that justifies a decrease in the amount of the child support order. On the other hand, downward modifications in child support orders are not available to obligors who attempt to shirk their parental responsibilities by intentionally reducing their earnings. Thus, courts reject requests for child support modifications if there is evidence that the noncustodial parent is voluntarily unemployed (or underemployed).

Although the employment status of low-income noncustodial fathers is often unstable and precarious, courts typically do not modify child support orders to reflect reduced earnings. Even though child support laws specifically allow for such adjustments, numerous problems limit the implementation of the rule. Poor fathers lack access to counsel who could seek modification on their behalf when their earnings decline. They are also unlikely to file pro se petitions in courts for downward modification. A recent study examining the experience of low-income families with the child support system revealed that many poor fathers lacked awareness of the child support system and related court processes, so much so that they did not know that they could seek a downward modification of their child support orders or what steps to follow to obtain reductions in the awards.

Incarcerated fathers, in particular, are unlikely to secure modifications, even though they earn little or nothing during their periods of confinement. There is not one consistent approach among states concerning how to address child support obligations and accumulated debt of imprisoned fathers. The divergent state practices reflect competing policy views regarding whether incarceration is voluntary unemployment. One group of states treats incarceration as voluntary unemployment and refuses to grant prisoners’ requests to modify child support. This approach reflects the policy view that it would be tantamount to rewarding a parent’s criminal behavior if a court took into account the parent’s incarceration when calculating his or her child support obligation.

Other states’ approaches include either treating incarceration as a factor to take into account when considering modification requests or having a categorical rule that allows for suspension of child support obligations during the periods of confinement. These alternative rules, which more directly tie child support payments to the earning capacities of noncustodial parents, reflect a more realistic approach to the economic condition of imprisoned obligors. Further, states that employ this approach recognize that if incarcerated parents accumulate staggering child support debts during their confinement, they will likely be less inclined to comply with their child support orders or otherwise be involved with their children when released from prison. Even in states where incarceration may be a permissible basis for modification, it is nevertheless unlikely that child support orders will be reduced. The parent must still make a formal, legal request for a modification. Because many low-income fathers do not make these requests, their incarcerations lead to further build-up of their child support debts.

slavery to childrenGenerally, poor and/or incarcerated fathers cannot look to state child support offices to update their orders when circumstances warrant. This barrier exists even though the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act requires that state agencies review and adjust all support orders for TANF families on a triennial basis. Despite the law, there is a small likelihood that state agencies will pursue the adjustment of orders. A recent study found that child support orders are generally not responsive to changes in noncustodial parents’ earnings. Although sixty percent of child support orders examined in the study met the requirements for modification, only eight percent of those child support orders were modified. The authors of the study reflected that given the large number of noncustodial fathers who experienced a significant change in income, it would be administratively challenging for child support agencies to adjust all of the eligible orders. The child support system does not have administrative processes in place to promptly respond to frequent job changes (and losses) with corresponding changes to child support orders.

Further, where downward modifications of child support awards are concerned, states’ fiscal interests are diametrically opposed to the economic interests of noncustodial fathers whose children receive welfare benefits. States have an incentive not to update orders when fathers’ incomes decrease because such updates result in potential revenue losses for states. Empirical data assessing modification practices in several states confirm that child support offices tend not to pursue modifications in cases where child support orders would be reduced.

B. Low-Income Fathers’ Child Support Payments: Figures and Realities

felony-and-child-supportPractices regarding establishing and modifying child support orders do not realistically take account of the large number of noncustodial parents who are as poor as the custodial parents and children with whom they are associated. Most fathers who do not pay child support are poor and unable to find jobs that would enable them to pay. About twenty-six percent of noncustodial fathers (about 2.8 million) are poor, and the vast majority of this group (approximately eighty-eight percent) does not pay any child support. These fathers earn an average of $5627 annually. One study found that only one-quarter of noncustodial fathers with incomes less than one-hundred-thirty percent of the poverty line worked full-time year round, and their average income was only $6989 (just above the $6800 poverty level for a single adult).

Another study found that sixty percent of poor fathers who do not pay child support are racial and ethnic minorities, and twenty-nine percent were institutionalized (mostly in prison) at the time of interview. Only forty-three percent of men not in prison were working, and those employed in 1996 worked an average of just twenty-nine weeks and earned $5627 that year. Their barriers to employment were also considerable: forty-three percent were high-school dropouts, thirty-nine percent had health problems, and thirty-two percent had not worked in three years. Overall, job prospects are not promising for men with already weak attachments to the labor force and other significant barriers to employment.

Given the dire employment and economic status of poor noncustodial fathers, it is not particularly surprising that child support collections from this population remain low. The OCSE has confirmed that the poorest children (i.e., those receiving government welfare payments) receive a small portion of child support collected overall. In 2010, families receiving public assistance accounted for fourteen percent of the caseload of the Child Support Enforcement Program; however, they represented only four percent of the cases for which child support was collected. In 2010, these children only received one-tenth as much child support collected through the enforcement system as did non-poor children (i.e., children whose families have never received public assistance). Additionally, the poorest children generally do not receive the full amount of child support they are owed. Among custodial parents with formal child support orders in place, only about thirty-five percent of parents who were never married, thirty-three percent who were Black, and thirty-six percent who were living in poverty, received the full amount of child support courts award.

The low rate of child support collections for poor children from their equally poor fathers has not changed significantly over time, nor has the child support enforcement program been successful in accomplishing its goal of reducing child poverty through enhanced collections from noncustodial parents. Indeed, there are more children living below the poverty line today than in 1975, the year in which Congress created the federal child support program. In 1975, seventeen percent of children in the United States lived below the poverty line. In 2010, twenty-two percent did.

Rather than succeeding in reducing child poverty, aggressive enforcement practices directed at poor families instead produce large unpaid child support debts. No- and low-income parents are responsible for the greatest portion of unpaid child support, according to the OCSE. Of the more than $70 billion in child support debt nationally, noncustodial parents who have no quarterly earnings or earn less than $10,000 annually owe seventy percent of all arrears owed to the government as reimbursement for welfare expenditures. A small number of child support obligors (eleven percent) owe a majority of the arrearages, and they each owe over $30,000 in debt. Yet, they are among the poorest obligors. Twenty-nine percent of child support debtors earn between $1 and $10,000, and thirty-four percent have no reported earnings. Noncustodial parents with more than $40,000 in annual income hold only four percent of child support arrears. The problem is nationwide; child support caseloads in every state include very low-income fathers who have accumulated enormous arrearages and who have virtually no prospect of ever satisfying the debt.

C. Enforcing Child Support Orders Against Low-Income Fathers

illegal-court-enforcementWith the collection rate so low, it is important to examine the enforcement efforts the child support system employs. The child support system has developed a broad arsenal of enforcement strategies to ensure that noncustodial parents pay child support that is owed. According to the OCSE, their automated enforcement tools are very effective when applied to the parents comprising their caseloads who are regularly employed or have assets. Automatic withholding of child support payments from employer payroll accounts for two-thirds of all child support collections. Child support is also secured from able nonpayers through a range of alternative mechanisms, such as intercepting federal and state income tax refunds, seizing bank account balances, restricting or revoking drivers’, occupational, and professional licenses, and placing liens on properties. Because of these automated systems of collection, many fathers who may have been inclined to evade their child support obligations no longer have the option to do so. Thus, willingness to comply with a support order is a much less salient factor influencing collections. Put another way, an employed father is very likely to pay child support whether he chooses to or not.

However, these conventional collection methods are not effective in collecting past due child support from noncustodial parents who lack stable, consistent employment and financial assets. Indeed, utilizing these less severe sanctions with dead broke noncustodial parents would be futile. Wage assignment will not work if the parent is unemployed. Intercepting tax refunds will not work if the parent is not due a tax refund. Seizing bank balances will not work if the parent does not have assets squirreled away in an account. Denying a passport will not work if the parent lacks the resources to travel outside the country. Having failed to collect support by these traditional methods, the child support system inevitably turned to more aggressive enforcement measures when pursuing collections from indigent parents. Although Congress implemented such tools to collect unpaid support from deadbeat dads, it is low-income parents who most likely face the threat of incarceration through the civil contempt process. Consequently, the most severe child support enforcement sanctions tend to have the greatest impact on men on the bottom of the income distribution who are the least able to meet their child support obligations.

The extent to which noncustodial parents in the United States are jailed for failure to pay child support has not been extensively studied. The Center for Family Policy and Practice (CFFPP), which has been studying the challenges and barriers faced by low-income fathers since 1995, has completed the most work in this area. CFFPP examined the intersection of child support and incarceration (civil contempt and criminal charges for nonpayment of child support) in several studies. CFFPP found that in most states there were reports of civil contempt arrests and incarcerations for nonpayment of child support. Notably, civil contempt arrests and incarcerations outnumber criminal nonsupport arrests in many jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions, such as Marion County, Indiana, find civil enforcement more efficient than criminal enforcement. In that county, it is reported that out of 80,000 to 100,000 open child support cases each year, about 3%, or 2,400 to 3,300, result in incarceration for nonpayment. Roughly 15-20 of these are criminal charges, and the rest are civil contempt. CFFPP’s studies examining data at the local level in Wisconsin confirmed that the most aggressive child support enforcement policies tend to have the greatest impact on the poorest parents who are unable to pay. The study revealed that in Madison and Milwaukee there is a higher rate of arrests for nonpayment of child support for low-income minority parents than for other parents. This is the case even though in Wisconsin, as in other states, inability to pay is a defense to civil contempt. Other researchers have raised similar concerns about the demographics of delinquent parents incarcerated for failure to pay support.

More recently, the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) commenced a study of child support and incarceration, focusing on Wisconsin’s use of both civil contempt and criminal nonsupport enforcement tools. The first report issued as part of this research project revealed that researchers’ efforts to document the prevalence of incarceration for failure to pay child support in Wisconsin were unsuccessful. Child support agencies do not routinely report data on the use of arrest and incarceration as an enforcement tool. In Wisconsin, existing case tracking systems, county child support offices, and other state agencies involved in child support enforcement do not systematically keep track of the extent to which the use of civil contempt processes result in incarceration of delinquent parents. Researchers’ efforts to ascertain the information by examining sheriffs’ offices’ and House of Corrections’ data sources were similarly unavailing. Further, although child support office personnel indicated to researchers that it would be fairly straightforward to determine figures for cases that they referred to district attorneys for criminal nonsupport charges, researchers encountered numerous challenges with the relevant data sources. Consequently, IRP’s exploration of available data sources regarding incarceration has not yet yielded information regarding either how often these enforcement tools result in the incarceration of delinquent parents or the demographic characteristics of the noncustodial parents most likely to be incarcerated.

Although figures regarding prevalence were not forthcoming, IRP researchers examined the reported local practices associated with the use of civil contempt processes and criminal nonsupport charges as enforcement tools. They found that, although the counties actively employ civil contempt as an enforcement tool, whether doing so will lead to a finding of contempt varies tremendously both across and within counties in Wisconsin. Many factors are at play, including existing child support agency practices, individual caseworker discretion, differences in the predisposition of county courts and family court commissioners to find civil contempt, and differing law enforcement practices.

County child support offices approach the use of civil contempt differently. One county treats contempt as a last resort measure to employ if other enforcement methods fail, while another county, which does not see civil contempt as the most severe method of encouraging compliance, utilizes it earlier in the enforcement process as a wake-up call to impress upon noncustodial parents the gravity of the situation. Caseworker discretion figures prominently in the extent to which civil contempt is used, even in counties that employ written guidelines. While caseworkers generally make case-by-case determinations after examining the individual circumstances of each case, personal preference influences whether an individual caseworker uses civil contempt. Officials that researchers interviewed pointed out that some [case] workers are more willing than others to invest the time to work with a delinquent payer prior to beginning civil contempt proceedings.

Family court commissioners’ approaches to civil contempt proceedings also factor into whether courts find obligors in contempt. Agency officials reported that some courts employ a higher burden of proof than others and that purge conditions vary. Judicial findings regarding whether the lack of payment is willful similarly result from case-by-case determinations by family court commissioners, who enjoy substantial judicial discretion in making such rulings. Finally, with respect to law enforcement practices, the report found that some counties proactively enforce bench warrants associated with child support, while in other counties, incarceration pursuant to a warrant takes place only when a delinquent obligor has an interaction with law enforcement for some other reason.

According to child support officials, they utilize criminal nonsupport charges as a child support enforcement tool much less frequently than civil contempt; in Wisconsin, however, empirical data regarding the prevalence of the use of this enforcement tool is lacking. Representatives from prosecutor’s offices in two counties (Dane and Racine) reported making referrals fewer than ten times per year, while representatives in Milwaukee County reported making seventy to one hundred referrals per year. As with civil contempt, referral making varies from county to county within Wisconsin. Where the child support agency did not pursue criminal nonsupport, staff explained that they preferred civil contempt because it is more efficient and more likely to provoke compliance with a child support order. By contrast, counties that bring criminal nonsupport charges against delinquent payers tend to have more personnel and resources available for this purpose.

D. Questioning the Efficacy of the Prevailing Approach

hell-to-payThe poorest noncustodial parents are the most likely to face incarceration for nonpayment through the civil contempt process, even though lawmakers enacted such harsh enforcement measures with deadbeat dads in mind. The accumulation of unrealistic and excessive child support debts results, in large part, from subjecting impoverished noncustodial parents to an automatic and inescapable child support system that has reimbursement of welfare benefits as its primary focus and far too often does not account for parents’ inabilities to pay. The low-income noncustodial parent who lacks attorney representation experiences the child support system as a virtually unstoppable chain of events that inevitably leads to unfathomable levels of debt that he or she has no hope of ever paying off.

While civil contempt for nonpayment is an efficient and justifiable tool for able-to-pay parents, when child support agencies apply this practice to all noncustodial parents regardless of their ability to pay, primarily poor parents end up in jail. For a destitute person, civil contempt is an inappropriate remedy to secure payment of a child support obligation: the party cannot be coerced into paying child support that instant because they have no funds to pay it. Under such circumstances, incarcerating destitute child support debtors serves no purpose at all. Because the goal of civil contempt is to coerce compliance with a court’s order, the justification for imprisonment is lost when compliance is impossible.

The goal of recouping welfare expenditures incentivizes states to aggressively pursue child support collections from the very poorest parents, rather than from middle- or upper-income parents, who do not have children in the welfare caseload. For these poor fathers, it is virtually inevitable that they will experience the full brunt of the child support enforcement system, including penalties, sanctions, and potentially even incarceration. Yet, even with the government’s enhanced, automated, and stringent enforcement tools in operation, noncustodial parents still owe over $110 billion to state child support systems as recoupment of welfare cash assistance provided to their children. The staggering amount of child support arrears confirms that child support payments, standing alone, are insufficient to meet the needs of poor children. Given the dismal collection rate of arrears, one must question the efficacy of the current child support system in achieving its stated goals of reducing child poverty and reimbursing the state for welfare expenditures. Moreover, recent studies reveal that, in some circumstances, child support enforcement may hinder collections rather than enhance them.

For example, one recent empirical study determined that aggressive child support measures not only fail to lead to the collection of more support, but mothers living under strong enforcement regimes may actually be worse off than those living in weak regimes. Researchers concluded that when child support agencies utilized formal enforcement measures against noncustodial fathers who voluntarily contributed informal cash and in-kind support to custodial mothers, the contributions ceased and tended not to be replaced by equivalent levels of formal cash support. Moreover, there is evidence that states’ aggressive and relentless pursuit of child support pushes some poor noncustodial fathers of children receiving public benefits to seek genetic testing and disestablishment of paternity in order to be freed from the duty to pay child support. The resulting unintended consequence is that some children become legally fatherless and lose the economic support and nurturing provided by their (non-biological) fathers.

Another recent study focused on the impact of child support enforcement on the labor force behavior of young Black men and concluded that child support enforcement negatively affects labor force activity for this demographic group, especially those between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four. As noted, for this population, child support orders are high relative to income (typically in the range of twenty to thirty-five percent of income). And when child support is combined with regular taxation, obligors can experience an effective tax rate as high as sixty to eighty percent. When poor noncustodial fathers fail to pay support (as often happens), the enforcement mechanisms are triggered, and through wage garnishment, the child support system takes up to sixty-five percent of the parent’s net income to satisfy the child support debt.

arrestIncarcerating indigent noncustodial fathers also undermines child support program goals. Most fundamentally, few obligors generate income while incarcerated, and incarceration may negatively impact their employment prospects upon release. It is well-documented that ex-offenders have limited employment opportunities and that employers are much less likely to hire Black men with criminal records than they are to hire similarly situated White men. A prison record not only erodes job opportunities because of employer aversion, it also disqualifies ex-offenders from some skilled and licensed occupations. And even when they do find work, noncustodial parents with criminal records earn significantly less than they did prior to their incarceration. Thus imprisonment further prevents noncustodial fathers from paying their required support.

Moreover, both the practice of aggressive child support enforcement and the prospect of imprisonment for nonpayment push some indigent parents to participate in underground employment. In one qualitative study, low-income fathers who lack the financial means to pay their support orders have said they faced the choice between generating income in the underground economy or being caught by the child support enforcement and, possibly, imprisoned. Underground employment, which includes self-employment, off-the-books and under-the-table jobs, and illegal activities, such as selling drugs and selling stolen merchandise, provides earnings that are easily hidden from the child support system. Fathers who engage in underground employment enjoy a greater degree of payment discretion because the automated and routine enforcement mechanisms are less effective for obligors who work outside the formal employment sector. Incarceration for nonpayment can have similar effects, driving poor fathers into the underground economy, thereby reducing the amount of income available to children through child support payments and undermining the intended purpose of stronger enforcement.

IV. Rethinking the Child Support System’s Approach to Low-Income Fathers

liberty-internetAddressing the problems this Article identified earlier entails a rethinking of the child support system’s approach to low-income fathers and their families. Because many difficulties are linked to states’ practices of privileging welfare cost recoupment over the economic well-being of poor children, the goal of providing economic support to poor children must be paramount. A stronger focus on children’s economic needs invites reconsideration of many existing practices, such as the amount of child support paid by noncustodial parents that the state will pass through to families receiving welfare benefits rather than retain for reimbursement purposes; the requirement that welfare applicants assign their rights to collect past-due child support to states; and states’ efforts to collect, from noncustodial fathers, Medicaid costs associated with a nonmarital birth.

A state’s interest in recouping welfare expenditures is in tension with the goal of improving the economic well-being of children living in poverty. As noted, custodial parents receiving TANF are required to assign their rights to collect child support to states as reimbursement for welfare benefits. Because most states use the entire monthly support payment to recoup welfare expenditures, the child support collected does not enhance the family’s living standard. About one-third of states pass through fifty dollars of collected child support to children’s families. In 2004, states collected approximately $635 million in child support on behalf of TANF families and distributed about 27 percent of it to TANF families, keeping the rest to reimburse the federal and state governments for welfare costs. States could give families on welfare all the child support they collect through the assignment process. Doing so would remove many more families from poverty. Even fathers who later reunite with their families are not shielded from state efforts to collect child support. In these cases, the child welfare system pursues child support from low-income fathers who reside with their children in intact families, thus reducing the economic resources available to the families and privileging recoupment of state welfare expenditures.

Although reform in this area would likely lead to reduction in reimbursement revenue for the child support enforcement system, reform may nonetheless have a positive fiscal impact on poor families. Child support payments would inure to the economic benefit of disadvantaged children rather than states. While such a move might not be politically popular across the board because of its potential to reduce state revenue, some have argued convincingly that it is unreasonable to expect the child support system to self-finance its operations.

With this enhanced commitment to children’s economic needs in mind, Part IV presents a multi-pronged alternative scheme for child support that falls into three distinct areas: corrections, investments, and shared responsibility. First, it proposes a system of corrections (or reforms) to the child support system that makes the financial obligations imposed on disadvantaged fathers more realistically reflect individual fathers’ income potential. Second, significant government investment in effective capacity building strategies is needed so that disadvantaged fathers are better able to meet their child support responsibilities. At a minimum, progress should be made on both these fronts in order to address the economic needs of poor children and their families.

There are no guarantees, however, and implementing the first two prongs of this proposal may not succeed in achieving the goal of maximizing private support for poor children. The systemic barriers to securing employment that disadvantaged fathers (and mothers) experience are long-standing, intractable, and hard to surmount. The experiences of single-mother households that have left the TANF-caseload (i.e., welfare leavers) demonstrate the tremendous difficulty and fragility of even modest upward mobility from the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Even more sobering are the consistent findings from decades of research involving disadvantaged men that confirm that, after completing a transitional (subsidized) job program, these men do not generally locate unsubsidized employment that pays a higher salary. Simply put, long-term gains in employment and earnings have been elusive for this population, and they are especially vulnerable to losing ground during economic downturns. Consequently, a more robust public-private sharing of financial responsibility for poor children ought to be a part of any reform. Private support of poor children thus would be complemented by, rather than substituted for, public support.

dad-slaveryThe time to reform the child support system is long overdue. The reforms envisioned can be characterized more as a series of corrections, an attempt to redress the harmful, unintended consequences of prior reforms that swung too far in the direction of punishing so-called deadbeat dads. The prior reforms failed to take account of the appropriateness and potential impact of such harsh measures on disadvantaged fathers and their families–and did so at the expense of accomplishing child support program goals. Indeed, there is growing recognition that, as applied to low-income parents, the child support system is not functioning effectively because collections are low, arrearages are excessively large, and poor children remain in poverty. The Commissioner of the OCSE acknowledges that, for disadvantaged populations, the growing body of research suggests that reduced orders and debt balances can improve employment and child support outcomes. The proposed reforms are thus directed primarily at setting realistic child support orders at the outset and implementing mechanisms to forgive (or compromise) existing onerous and un-payable child support debts.

The elimination or reduction of large child support debts is an important first step. There is growing acknowledgement in the field that, as a practical matter, low-income fathers will never be able to pay the enormous child support debts they have accumulated and that, as a consequence, the very existence of the debt can discourage some fathers from even trying to repay it. Indeed, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement recently reissued a policy statement clearly stating that states have the authority to compromise unpaid welfare arrears owed to the government. The federal government permits states to compromise child support arrearages when the debt is owed to the state. Some state and localities are taking a close look at the large arrearages that have built up for low-income fathers. The methods used to manage uncollectible arrears include amnesty (debt forgiveness) programs for arrearages owed to states and the automatic suspension of orders when fathers are in jail or participating in job programs. So far, however, movement on this front has been piecemeal, and a more systematic and comprehensive effort is needed.

Furthermore, there is growing recognition that the arrearage problem is best handled through prevention. States are thus reconsidering the practice of routinely imputing income, setting large retroactive orders based on welfare debt and other costs that bear no relationship to fathers’ abilities to pay, and keeping orders current by implementing procedures to facilitate prompt review and adjustment of orders when appropriate. As with arrearages, additional efforts must be made in order to have a meaningful impact.

First, it is essential that the federal OCSE mandate (and state child support agencies implement) realistic and appropriate child support policies in cases involving low- and no-income noncustodial parents. This approach will, in part, require that child support personnel, at both the order setting and enforcement phase, assess the noncustodial parent’s ability and willingness to pay. Determining ability to pay will necessarily require an individualized, fact-based determination that takes into account a number of relevant factors. The assessment would consider such factors as the obligor’s past work history, job skills, level of education, criminal record (if any), physical and mental health, and past efforts to secure employment or job training. A track record of compliance with child support obligations would also be relevant when evaluating willingness to pay. Assessment of willingness to pay should also consider the existence (or lack thereof) of employment opportunities in the obligor’s community for job seekers with similar qualifications and characteristics. Such inquiries would no doubt provide the child support system (and individual caseworkers) with a better understanding of low-income fathers’ economic predicaments and the efforts they resort to in order to survive economically. As noted previously, many low-income nonpaying fathers exhibit multiple barriers to steady employment. An assumption that all nonpaying fathers are deadbeats is inequitable and unjust, especially in light of the current recession and historically high unemployment rate, particularly for low-skilled workers.

Another area of proposed reform emphasizes capacity building to enhance poor noncustodial parents’ labor market prospects so that they are better able to meet their economic duties to their children. The federal government now urges state child support programs to examine the underlying reasons fathers are not paying child support and to provide job-related support and services to poor fathers to help them meet their support obligations. There is widespread understanding that many low-income fathers who want to pay support are unable to simply because of obstacles to full participation in the labor market. Just as in the case of disadvantaged custodial mothers, similarly situated poor noncustodial fathers need a work-focused state safety net that helps to enable them to work and pay child support. Government assistance and social programs today are almost universally either predicated on participation in the formal labor market or restricted to low-income children and their custodial parents; because disadvantaged men are only tenuously attached to the labor market and tend to be noncustodial parents, they are ineligible for most income security programs. Thus, child support enforcement efforts must be coupled with measures designed to improve the employment prospects and overall financial security of poor fathers. Research showing a strong correlation between child support compliance and ability to pay supports this approach. Also, steady employment in the formal labor market enhances the efficacy of the enforcement system, which largely relies on routine and automated systems to target parents through their connections to the formal employment system.

obamas new dealThis approach is reflected in President Obama’s agenda for strengthening families, the Fatherhood, Marriage and Family Innovation Fund. The proposal, included in the Administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget proposal, would establish a new $500 million fund to provide grants to states to conduct and evaluate comprehensive responsible fatherhood initiatives and comprehensive demonstrations to improve child and family outcomes in low-income families with serious barriers to self-sufficiency. While state- and local-level pilot programs providing comprehensive employment and other supportive services to low-income noncustodial parents exist, the Obama Administration’s Fatherhood, Marriage and Family Innovation Fund would be the first such federal program.

The advantages of providing services to low-income fathers to assist them in their efforts to find and retain stable employment far outweigh resulting negative impacts to the child support system. Some might argue that the costs of the additional employment-related services would be prohibitive. Certainly, the child support system’s functions will expand significantly. Its core duties, which today focus primarily on establishing and enforcing child support orders, would also include services designed to aid noncustodial parents in finding work and meeting their support obligations. Child support agencies or service providers in local communities would provide services in areas such as job readiness, job training, and job placement. Under this system, more caseworker time and attention would be expended assessing a low-income parent’s ability and willingness to provide support. Conducting fact-based inquiries of all relevant information on a case-by-case basis is likely to be more time consuming and labor intensive than the current automated enforcement system, which is largely reliant on mass case processing. Because mass case processing is accomplished through computerized and automated systems, it relies less on the efforts of individual child support agency staff. By contrast, when a child-support staff member determines a noncustodial father’s job readiness (or the package of services to eliminate barriers to employment), he or she will likely conduct a structured interview with the individual and possibly also utilize a range of specialized tools and assessment measures.

This approach will be more equitable and cost-effective as well (with potential fiscal gains to states from a reduction in unwarranted civil incarcerations offsetting any additional costs associated with individualized determinations). Michael Turner, for example, was incarcerated on numerous occasions for nonpayment of support, even though he was unemployed and lacked the ability to satisfy his debt. Some of Turner’s jail sentences lasted for as long as a year. Not only did jailing him not succeed in coercing compliance with his child support order, it also imposed significant costs on the State of South Carolina. In light of the fact that thirteen to sixteen percent of South Carolina’s jail population is comprised of child support obligors imprisoned for civil contempt, ample savings would be realized by ceasing the current practice of jailing poor parents who are unable to pay child support. Although empirical information regarding the national scope of this phenomenon is limited, and the limitations of existing data sources have presented challenges for researchers seeking to generate such empirical information, reports confirm that across the United States a significant number of noncustodial fathers are jailed for nonpayment of child support. The cost of incarcerating delinquent parents, however, is not likely to be a significant factor that influences child support agencies’ enforcement decisions, given that those costs, which are shared with the states’ judicial and criminal justice systems, are partly externalized. Nonetheless, the considerable costs incurred to incarcerate Turner (and similarly situated poor fathers) did not result in increased child support payments for his children. Savings from reducing civil incarceration rates could be redirected to provide employment-related services to indigent child support obligors, a practice that has a far greater chance of leading to paid employment and ultimately compliance with support orders.

justiceAlthough policies emphasizing jobs (rather than jail) for poor fathers are necessary, there is strong reason to be skeptical regarding the likely efficacy (and sufficiency) of such measures. The current presidential administration has encouraged state and local child support offices to shift their emphasis in enforcement proceedings from an overreliance on punitive measures to capacity building efforts. Policymakers at both the federal and state levels recognize that there is a convincing body of evidence showing that the potential contribution of poor noncustodial fathers to the improved economic well-being of their children is seriously constrained and falls far short of their child support orders’ amounts. Unfortunately, however, this new thinking has not yet transformed how child support systems operate nationwide. For the most part, the systemic and automated practices that contributed to Turner’s multiple imprisonments remain the status quo.

Successful implementation of this new system requires the acceptance and support of large bureaucratic institutions and other individual actors in the child support field. Yet, institutional resistance to reform is strong (particularly at the local and individual levels). Change will likely be slow because perceptions and basic attitudes also need to be changed. The myth of the deadbeat dad poses a considerable obstacle to implementing change. For example, even during the current economic downturn, which has been described by many as the Great Recession, child support officials and courts persist in the practice of setting minimum orders and imputing income to fathers who lack jobs. A recent study by the Institute for Research on Poverty reported on the effect of the recession on child support operations in five Wisconsin counties. The five counties included in the study represent a range of population sizes, and researchers selected them for inclusion in the study because they had high unemployment rates that rose sharply in 2009. The study examined how child support and court staff set original orders when the noncustodial parent was unemployed. It also assessed whether, in response to the recession, child support agencies and courts changed their practices.

The study determined that, despite recession and high unemployment rates in these counties, there has not been a significant change in the practice of setting initial orders in cases involving unemployed noncustodial parents who have no income from unemployment insurance. Courts in the counties are generally reluctant to order no cash payment, even when the obligor clearly has no means to make the payment, because the courts want to reinforce the seriousness of a parent’s financial obligation to his children. In establishing child support orders, the most common approach continues to be the establishment of an order based on imputed income (either based on the minimum wage or the prior work history of the parent) and requiring immediate payment of child support. Some counties impose a work search requirement along with the support order, and so long as the father satisfies the requirement to seek work, child support officials will refrain from filing a motion for contempt if there is nonpayment of the support order. Child support staff declining to pursue the harshest enforcement measures in response to nonpayment of support demonstrates an understanding and recognition of the economic difficulties experienced by noncustodial parents. However, because courts continue to set initial orders at an imputed amount that bears no relationship to unemployed parents’ actual earnings, parents in these counties continue to accumulate arrearages.

shaken baby syndromeIn a time of shrinking government budgets, it is unlikely that there will be widespread public support for making significant monetary investments in programs targeting disadvantaged fathers. For decades this population has been left behind and very few government services are available to poor noncustodial fathers. By contrast, Congress passed and implemented welfare reforms in the mid-1990s, during a period when the U.S. economy was experiencing tremendous growth and state budgets could more easily absorb the additional expenses associated with providing job-related services and other necessary supports to welfare recipients. A shift in the child support context toward securing jobs for noncustodial fathers who are delinquent in their child support payments will likely be less feasible as a practical matter and less acceptable as a political matter.

Thus, in addition to addressing the problems posed by institutional resistance to reform, efforts to improve low-income fathers’ job prospects must not fail to take account of several systemic factors hindering possible success in the labor market, namely pervasive racial discrimination in employment, the difficulty that former inmates have in securing employment, and the current dismal economic climate, which has made jobs scarce and eroded upward mobility. Even though the recession in the United States officially ended over two years ago, the recovery has been sluggish and the unemployment crisis persists. As of November 2011, the national unemployment rate was 8.6%. The Great Recession has hit Black workers particularly hard. During 2010, the unemployment rate among Black workers was two to nearly three times greater than that of White workers in some states. For example, unemployment among Black workers in Mississippi peaked at 20% in the first quarter of 2010, a rate that was more than three times the 6% rate of White workers. The employment and labor force participation for less-educated Black men between the ages of sixteen and thirty-four has been on a steady decline over the last two decades, continuing even through the strong economic years of the 1990s. Studies examining the decline attribute most of it to the negative impact that past incarceration and strict child support enforcement has on the labor force participation of young Black men. Notably, the period of declining employment coincides with the growth in incarceration rates and reforms to strengthen child support enforcement, both of which disproportionately impacted young Black men. As of 2002, the incarceration rate for Black men was five percent, and for young Black men it was twelve percent; additionally, approximately twenty-two percent of all Black men were ex-offenders.

The difficulties catalogued above challenge the normative ideal that financial responsibilities to and for poor children can be privatized without undue material hardship. Although child support has a role to play in the universe of programs for poor children, reconsideration of its prominence in family policy is warranted. In cases of serious social and economic disadvantage, even full and timely child support payments are unlikely to lift children out of poverty. Given that reality, policymakers need to examine alternative models that would provide needy children with a more stable public source of resources to ensure their economic security. In particular, it is time to reconsider the utility of assured child support benefits as a safety net in poor families. A child support benefit system that both enforces the obligation of noncustodial parents to provide financial support to their children and supplements that private support with a public benefit providing a minimum level of cash assistance would ensure that the basic needs of poor children are met. Establishing a child support floor–a publicly funded benefit that, coupled with court-ordered child support payments, ensures a minimum safety net–would substantially reduce poverty and the economic insecurity of single mothers and their children.

[a1] . Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin Law School; Faculty Affiliate, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin; J.D., 1989, Harvard Law School; A.B., 1986, Barnard College.

Reprinted from: Tonya L. Brito, Fathers Behind Bars: Rethinking Child Support Policy Toward Low-income Noncustodial Fathers and Their Families, 15 Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 617 (Spring 2012) (431 Footnotes Omitted)

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

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Vernellia R. Randall
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“Deadbeat Dad” Ordered Not To Have Children

daddyRight or wrong? Some say that creating more children is your God-given human right. But when you’re having a pile of kids with a bunch of women, that not only means you’re a walking STD time bomb, it also means that you’re irresponsible. A man in Wisconsin has fallen behind on his child support after having nine kids with six different women. This prompted the judge to tell the man that he cannot have anymore kids until he shows that he can provide for them.

Corey Curtis owes almost $100,000 in back child support, according to prosecutors in Racine, Wisconsin. Judge Tim Boyle told the highly fertile 44-year old man that he is disappointed that he doesn’t have the authority to order him sterilized, since he keeps having kids that he can’t and won’t take care of.

“Common sense dictates you shouldn’t have kids you can’t afford,” the judge said.

Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Sommers told the judge that he could do something to help keep Curtis from populating half the earth. She cited a 2001 case in the Wisconsin Supreme Court where the judge ruled that the defendant was not allowed to have children until he could prove that he was able to take care of them financially.

“I will make that a condition of the probation,” Boyle said. He then gave Curtis three years of probation. This means that if he has anymore children during his many nights of hot, random lovemaking with women who won’t make him wear a condom, he’s going to end up in jail.

“Judges, they make rulings,” Curtis said to WDJT-TV, “they make them kind of hastily. So, if that’s what he feels one of my conditions should be then I’m going to abide by it.”

The court ruled in the original case that the man’s Constitutional rights are not violated because he can still have kids as long as he pays child support. Some say that allowing judges to decide who can and cannot reproduce is a civil liberties problem. But others might say that Curtis, with nine children of his own, has done enough reproducing for a lifetime. This also fails to mention that his children are bound to suffer from the poor choices of their parents.

Find out more about the United Nations protocol for children and the Bradley Amendment on this website.

Are You A Victim of Exploitation?

Government Exploitation: Dads Are Dead Broke

Bradley Amendment Creates an American Subclass of Poverty

original article posted by Bo Watkin

The Issue of Legal Consent

roaring matriarchMen aren’t perfect. That’s for sure. Recent times have proved that women are no better. Goddesses of windfall have received a free ride on the legal gravy train in the USA for far too long. Now, this system of abusive law threatens all parents, male and female. Never mind that the sociopathic matriarch of the past has been coddled and fussed over for many decades because of “deadbeat dads.” This perceived situation has worked well to the mutual empowerment of corporate government, as the resources of non-custodial parents are repeatedly ransacked, whether they are capable of paying or not. Corporate government has been only to happy to reimburse itself with all the free money through endless financial authority. State governments are also notorious for withholding money from the very children they proclaim to help. In many cases, this is because the state has already helped to support the children and the mothers that bore them through government vehicles like welfare and medicaid programs. In the view of the state, they are simply recouping the corporate investment that has been mandated by the federal government.

The sins of the system are many. When income changes for any reason, in the good old USA the child support doesn’t. Impoverished and unemployed non-custodial parents must hire an attorney. Child support is never retroactive, except to the detriment of the oppressed. Most judges see to that. In the meantime, many matriarchal sociopaths are relentless in their pursuit for cold hard cash through legal oppression. Family attorneys are only to happy to oblige, as legal costs are “passed on” to the father, whether they can pay or even if payment is never received. Their former husbands and boyfriends will pay, never mind if the money ever exists or could be earned. These women have been taught that they bear no responsibility. They are free to act any way they please, including chasing the emasculated males out of their lives. The state will care for their children no matter what. When you live in the ‘United States,’ Uncle Sam is the sugar daddy, even if a terrible one. The children will be supported, whether right or wrong, now with men as the usual target for renumeration. This isn’t entirely the case because there are plenty of women that won’t be bothered with their children because they would rather have another kind of life. Now, the nation is full of ‘deadbeat moms.’ Never mind the ‘deadbeat moms’ that continually abuse and misdirect their children to make themselves look good and dad look bad. Meanwhile, during all the family drama, the federal government has deeded itself total control over all financial transactions. It has the power to undo every American citizen to fulfill the interests of politics. This power endangers every parent, even every person that works for a living in the nation.

Technically, parents have been emasculated in this age, through the power of the corporate state. In this new empire, the fascist state owns the children while pretending that you do. For when you refer to enacted law, emotions and idealism don’t apply. A heartless corporation executes these laws as morals, ethics, and values go out the window.

the corporate unca sam has youCourts do not offer judgment, only legal opinion. The justices of the Supreme Court offer nothing but opinion, which then becomes public policy. The BAR association copyrights these opinions which is misleadingly labeled as the ‘law.’ In the United States, the people have increasingly been victims of legal precedence for nearly 8 decades. Common law is increasingly the rarity rather than the norm. Old grandad used to gloat that possession is nine-tenths of the law. That idea has passed on, along with old granddad! In civil law, you are guilty before being proved innocent, even though the creators of Perry Mason would have you believe otherwise.

The side effect of being a consenting citizen of the United States corporation is that all statutes are applied to you with what the U.S. code calls Prima Facie law. This law derives its authority from assumed consent and more often than not, your ignorance. All branches of government operate under law, meaning that the consent of the governed is automatically assumed in all legal matters and decisions based on court opinion. This view impacts all contracts. After all, what in today’s age isn’t a contract of some nature?

Marriage is a civil contract to which there are three parties- the husband, the wife and the state. That is the perception of the law which you have agreed to through your marriage license. From that time, the state is continually involved in your relationship, a silent ‘partner’ in all of your affairs. This is very basis of the criminal racket known as the dreaded ‘Child Protective Services,’ which claims overarching authority from ‘Health And Human Services’ as it legally kidnaps your children in their ‘best interest’ as it sees fit.

Authority is delegated through ‘parens patriae,’ literally ‘parent of the country’ which refer to the role of the state as sovereign and guardian of persons under legal disability.

Pursuant to the parens patriae doctrine, ‘the primary control and custody of infants is with the government, to be delegated, as of course, to their natural guardians and protectors, so long as such guardians are suitable persons to exercise it.’ – Columbia University

“In other words, the state is the father and mother of the child and the natural parents are not entitled to custody, except upon the state’s beneficent recognition that natural parents presumably will be the best of its citizens to delegate its custodial powers… ‘The law devolves the custody of infant children upon their parents, not so much upon the ground of natural right in the latter, as because the interests of the children, and the good of the public, will, as a general rule, be thereby promoted.'” (Chandler v. Whatley, 238 Ala. 206, 208, 189 So. 751, 753 (1939) quoting Striplin v. Ware, 36 Ala. at 89; Ex parte Wright, 225 Ala. 220, 222, 142 So. 672, 674 (1932). See also Fletcher v. Preston, 226 Ala. 665, 148 So. 137 (1933); and Striplin v. Ware, 36 Ala. 87 (1860).

What about your Constitutional rights? They’ve already taken care of that:

“But, indeed, no private person has a right to complain, by suit in court, on the ground of a breach of the Constitution. The Constitution it is true, is a compact, but he is not a party to it.“ (Padelford, Fay & Co., vs. Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah 14 Ga. 438, 520)

I am a man

The Supreme Court has transliterated the word “supreme” to mean that these seven appointed justices that pass legal opinion on masses of ‘consenting’ citizens are more supreme than God in an indestructible government.  These justices are not voted into these positions of power in any way by the people, but are appointed by the President of the United States as the head of a government corporation. These self-imposed deities clearly state here that they are the law of the land, and that “the natural consequence of citizenship” is for the people to be under their supreme opinion.

Your only option is to disagree, which means you must NOT consent. This is not an easy road to take as you are boxed in on all sides. Learning how to NOT CONSENT is what the United States was originally built on, but this is no longer the case, since the Constitution is a dead document, rendered inoperative through the invention of legal precedence in the 1930’s. This ‘legal bullying’ may well be the case throughout the rest of the Roman Empire. As the national news is so fond of saying: “desperate times call for desperate measures.” The beginning? Just say no!

$35 Billion in Child Support Owed in US: 41% Paid

baby money

The picture for parents with young children who are owed child support is grim, and it is getting worse, according to a recent report by the US Census Bureau. The percentage of custodial parents getting full payment is dropping at an alarming rate. Fewer parents received child support in 2009 when compared to 2007 payment percentages. Only 41.2 percent of parents received the full amount of support due in 2009, compared with 46.9 percent in 2007. Hundreds of thousands of families could be looking at a hole in their household budgets when child support payments don’t arrive.

Child Support by the Numbers

The big numbers from the report, Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009, showed that child support is just about an economy on its own. The amount of support owed in 2009 was $35.1 billion, of which only 61 percent was paid. The report centered on child support received by custodial parents from noncustodial parents, and included cash child support payments and non-cash support, such as gifts, clothing and health insurance.

Here are some highlights from the report:

• Based on 2010 numbers, 22.0 million children lived with 13.7 million custodial parents, while their non-custodial parent lived elsewhere-that’s about one-fourth of all children under 21 years old living with families
• Poverty levels in custodial parents’ families were up about 5 percent in 2009 compared to 2001 numbers, with 28.3 percent of custodial parents in poverty
• Child support is a key part of a custodial parent’s income, making up 20.8 percent of income for all custodial parents, and 62.6 percent of income for those living at poverty levels
• Chances for receiving all child support owed go up along with a custodial parent’s age, education level and employment

*****

The lawyers of the system and the system itself want you to… demand that you do things their way. Check out the Repeal Bradley blog for details as the government robs from the poor without concern for their well-being on any level, violates your civil rights and nourishes corporate judicial entities with a collection bonus for every dollar collected.

Government Invasion of your Parental Rights

“For the first time in American history, the majority of the Supreme Court no longer treats a parent’s right to control and direct the upbringing of their child as a fundamental liberty,”  former U.S. magistrate judge William Wagner. “We now have a new situation where government itself becomes the standard and whoever’s in power gets to say what your liberty is.” That is, after all, what legal precedence says.

This warrants concern for former Michigan congressman Peter Hoesktra: “There are people each and every day who are scheming to take away parental rights to start to destroy the family structure,” he said. “What we’ve seen over the last 40 to 50 years is continual legislative and judicial overreach going into areas that we never thought they would reach into.”

This overstepping of the states’ role can be traced to oppressive European regimes of the not-so-distant past.

Bill Clinton“Karl Marx said that in order to establish a perfect socialist state, you have to destroy the family,” said family psychologist and author John Rosemond. “You have to substitute the government and its authority for parental authority in the rearing of children.”

One of the vehicles to usher in socialist policies over children is an international treaty known as the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, or the UNCRC. Adopted by the UN in 1989, this essentially says that anytime there is a conflict or dispute between a child and a parent, a government bureaucrat gets to decide what is in the best interest of the child instead of the parent deciding what is in the best interest of the child. Do you see how the Bradley Amendment plays into the UNCRC?

The Supremacy Clause says that a treaty becomes a part of the supreme law of the land, which overrides state laws and overrides state constitutions. Almost all of American law of parenting kids is state law, so this treaty becomes supreme over virtually all American law of parents and children. Bill Clinton approved the treaty during his administration, so all it takes is two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to approve it in order for it to become a part of the supreme law of the land. Your child, as evidenced by law on all sides is that your child, as property, is important political capital.

American parents are losing their rights and don’t even know it. Featuring 3 reenactments based on real cases, “Overruled” (see below) is a 35-minute docudrama that exposes how the rights of parents in America are being eroded.  The fact is that legal precedence has continually eroded the rights of all Americans based on judicial decisions. This has been ongoing since the 1930’s. Surprise. Now, if the state wants this responsibility, then certainly, they are responsible for dissolving the human family as we know it, whether it is understood or not. Also, if this is the case, parents are no longer responsible for the children that they ‘sire.’ They have become tools for state endorsed ‘breeding.’ Your responsibility in the matter, in the eyes of the state, is increasingly dubious at best, and they would rather you have little to say on the matter.

Notice: This article is not legal counsel.
You will need an attorney and your own wits
to supply you with the details of your case.

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Government Invasion of your Parental Rights by E.J. Manning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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