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Posts tagged ‘poverty’

Child Support Needs to Catch Up to Reality

By Ruth Graham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by J. Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama: Church Shouldn’t Focus on Protecting the Unborn & Marriage

by Barry Silver

666 the prezA couple of weeks ago President Obama took part in a panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University where he launched into an attack on the focus of the Christian church in America. I’m not certain what makes him an expert exactly. I know he claims to be a constitutional law attorney. Funny though, the prez and the first lady were both attorneys, disbarred by the State of Illinois. Why is an attorney disbarred? An attorney is disbarred because of conduct unbecoming. It’s like being a soldier and being dishonorably discharged.

obsequious moderatorThe prez said that his comments were based on his “own Christian faith.” The panel was moderated by a famous Washington liberal, so the panel gravitated to praising the left while attacking the right when it comes to poverty. No discussion was made about the disparity in charitable giving between red and blue states, but simply to the fact that conservatives didn’t believe the government should be used for charity, while the left believes the government should be the main source of charity. Obama criticized churches for how they engage politically, focusing on “divisive issues” such as protecting life and preserving marriage.

“The president argued last week that churches would gain more followers if they embraced the “powerful” idea of helping those in poverty. “I think it would be powerful for our faith-based organizations to speak out on [poverty] in a more forceful fashion,” he said.

The president also said that advocating the redistribution of wealth is “vital to following what Jesus Christ, our Savior, talked about.”

More often, he engaged in double-speak like this:

“When it comes to what are you really going to the mat for, what’s the defining issue, when you’re talking in your congregations, what’s the thing that is really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, or as Catholics, or what have you, [poverty] is oftentimes viewed as a nice to have, relative to an issue like abortion.”

homelessThe ignorance of the president knows few bounds. To imply that ending poverty should be of greater concern to Christians than ending the holocaust of innocent lives through the eugenics of abortion is repulsive. All you hear liberals talk about is human rights until it comes down to actually considering what those rights are. Essentially, the unborn have no rights because they don’t have the capacity to vote.

burningrightsinternetMen don’t have rights either. They can vote, but they’ve been emasculated unless they want to tow the Washington line. The state can rob and plunder anyway it pleases. It sees itself as Robin Hood, especially as the champion of the children that it wants to own. It does this fully through single mothers. It champions the Bradley Amendment. It robs from parents and tolerates the church – for now. Government wants your faith. The church is simply poor competition. By deduction, Christians are pains in the arses to compete with the state in any way. Prez knows best.

dad-slaveryAs far as same-sex marriage goes, homosexuality is just another sin, conveniently listed among those sins, of which Yahweh says that no man or woman will enter His Kingdom. Many churches are already on a wide road to destruction according to scripture, but that’s another topic beyond the stupidity and corruptibility of American leaders and obsequious stone-headed church leaders. What a real Christian would best do isn’t covered much in public.

How the US Legal System Screws Poor Parents

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

by Wendy Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How have we arrived at these anti-family policies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Answer to US Child Support: Give Them An Ankle Bracelet

from the Desoto Times Tribune by Robert Lee Long

captiveA father thrown in jail for child support is unable to work to pay that debt and often loses his job. It’s a vicious cycle that is repeated time and time again. A recent New York Times article highlighted the issue of fathers who fall behind on child support, only to be incarcerated and unable to work, falling further and further behind in catching up.

For DeSoto County Jail Administrator Chad Wicker, the problem hits close to home. As a child of divorced parents, Wicker witnessed the problem firsthand. When his father fell behind in making child support payments, his mother could not collect on back child support because he lived in Texas. (Who knows how long ago this was? The Bradley Amendment is never discussed in these articles.)

mass handcuffs
States do not have reciprocal agreements to detain or arrest so-called “deadbeat dads” for overdue child support, according to Wicker.

“The problem with the dads who owe back child support is they keep coming back time and time again,” Wicker said. “We have some guys in custody who owe $70,000 or $80,000 and they are never in a position to pay it off.”

welfare queenEx-spouses of so-called “dead-beat dads” are also at a disadvantage. “Many times, the state does not get involved unless the mother is on government assistance,” Wicker said. “She can hire a private attorney or a private investigator to help her, but 99 percent of the time when a father who owes back child support gets arrested it’s because the state has a compelling interest in its litigation.”

Wicker said at the DeSoto County jail, men who have been arrested and jailed for owing back child support comprise 5 percent of the total jail inmate population but make up 40 percent of the jail’s non-violent offenders who are incarcerated.

“We usually keep between 10 to 20 in custody at any given time and for instance, today (Friday) we had a jail inmate population of 306,” Wicker said, adding 62 inmates were released Thursday following court-imposed adjudications of their sentences. According to Wicker, it costs $49.37 cents a day to house and feed an inmate.

Men who owe back child support quickly fill up beds in the jail once they again fall behind, according to Wicker. “Typically what happens is that you can go to jail if you are $2,000 behind,” Wicker said. “When you pay $400 a month, it doesn’t take long to get further behind if you get arrested and put in jail.”

Though jail is considered an effective incentive for parents who are able to pay, critics say punitive policies do not work for those who are poor, as the New York Times article points out.

Scott-police-fatal-shootingA case in point was the South Carolina man, Walter L. Scott, an African-American man who was pulled over for a broken tail light by a white Charleston, S.C. police officer. It was discovered by the police officer that Scott owed more than $18,000 in back child support and was likely headed back to jail. Scott bolted and ran and was shot in the back several times as he fled by the police officer, an event which touched off riots and protests in several American cities.

According to Sarah Geraghty, who was quoted in the New York Times article on the subject, poor people are often jailed over and over again in greater numbers for back child support in disproportionate numbers than those who have an ability to pay. “Parents who are truly destitute go to jail over and over again for child support debt simply because they are poor,” Geraghty was quoted in the New York Times article as saying.

According to the New York Times, a 2007 Urban Institute study of child support debt in nine large states found that 70 percent of people in arrears were “owed by people who reported less than $10,000 a year in income.”

tombstoneIn Scott’s case, he spent two weeks in jail and lost his $35,000-a-year job at a filmmaking company, in addition to sending him into an emotional and psychological spiral. Scott is now dead and obviously unable to pay not only any debt to his second wife and their children but any supposed debt to society.

DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco said he would like to see these incarcerated fathers out working than taking up badly needed jail beds in his facility. “If they have a job, I would like to see them on an ankle bracelet and keep them on the job,” Rasco said. “It would help them and their families and help us keep our numbers down. If they lose their job, they’ll never catch up.”

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It’s bad enough to be labeled a ‘deadbeat’ or actually be dead, but the US has become so legally radicalized that ‘authorities’ believe that ankle bracelets are an answer, as if jail has ever been an answer. Coercion and fear are obviously what this is about, not about any pretense at a solution. It all about corporation exploitation by the state.  Imagine – the US considers itself superior in the battle for ‘human rights.’ Fathers are little more than a paycheck, and that’s the way the state likes it. Surely, the founding fathers of this nation would turn over in their graves, that is, if they were able. – MJR

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Walter Scott and the Need for Child Support Reform

by Joy Moses

Scott-police-fatal-shootingWalter Scott’s death was striking because a police officer fired eight shots at him while his back was turned. When something so tragic occurs, observers tend to wonder why. The officer’s actions and utter disrespect for human life can never be justified. But recently, the New York Times published new information about Scott’s split second decision to run — his child support case. According to his brother, “Every job he has had, he has gotten fired from because he went to jail because he was locked up for child support.”

Elements of Scott’s story reflect existing concerns about the child support system. A debate over potential large-scale reform is more than a decade overdue. The seeming impossibility of change has always loomed ominously large, overshadowing calls for reform and pushing them into the dark corners of the policy world. However, at this current political moment, there are national conversations about policing, bipartisan criminal justice reforms and an existing White House initiative focused on men and boys of color — concepts that would have seemed laughable just a few short years ago.

indigent in America

child support can make a man indigent

There are some fathers who absolutely refuse to care for their children and they should be held accountable. However, the current system reaches well beyond that group, creating negative consequences for men who are rarely credited with being caring parents and are simply too poor to pay. The political explosiveness of the “deadbeat dad,” a figure that some researchers say sprang out of the same sources as his female counterpart (the “welfare queen”), helped distort the foundations of child support policy. The system seems to partially rest on underlying beliefs that low-income men, and especially those who are black, avoid work and financially providing for their children at all costs while also being permanently childlike and in need of both discipline and lessons on how to behave.

Over the years, the program has effectively served many families (transferring funds from one parent to another) for which it should be applauded. However, policies built on a foundation of stereotypes about numerous men who don’t want jobs stand in stark contrast to the reality of numerous jobs that don’t want the men. Researchers like William Julius Wilson (More Than Just Race), have documented decades long trends of disappearing job opportunities for low-skilled workers as well as increased criminal justice involvement which further leads to employment discrimination.

billboard-crimeWhen entities spend significant time on activities that fail to help and that actually hurt parents and families, it’s often useful to redirect their energies elsewhere. Reforms should shift the program mission and values away from damaging racial stereotypes that hurt families of all races and towards efforts to accurately diagnose the needs of families and take ‘pro-social’ action to address them.

One useful primary goal would be to comprehensively address the family law needs of low and middle-income families, helping with a very real challenge — the increasing and extraordinarily large number of families who can’t afford an attorney or who don’t feel comfortable representing themselves in legal matters. In doing so, agencies should assume that parents of all racial and class groupings share in a desire to care for their children, suggesting that they be treated with respect and provided with quality customer service. This would build upon efforts to accurately identify bad dads whose non-payment is rooted in an adamant refusal rather than their economic circumstances.

chronic-stressWith such a vision, services would start to look much different. No longer treated as enemies of the state, low-income fathers would be less likely to literally and figuratively run away from child support. The sole focus wouldn’t be on a father’s monetary value but on improving father-family relationships. Court decisions and unaddressed legal needs would be replaced by model practices like mediation that support mothers and fathers in making their own decisions for their families. Punishments like imprisonment would be replaced by employment assistance. And other proposed reforms designed to guarantee child support for women and children would avoid potential incentives to hound men for unaffordable reimbursements of funds states pay out to women and children.

Some states have already experimented with such reforms, finding positive results that have included increased child support payments by fathers and greater parental satisfaction with agency services. The Obama Administration has encouraged states to adopt these best practices while proposing helpful new rules. However, there are limits to the changes that can occur without Congress overhauling currently existing state requirements and incentives.

We need a fruitful, progressive conversation that abandons a focus on the status quo and reform efforts that toy around existing edges — instead choosing a new vision for the future that endeavors to do the hard work of changing the culture and functioning of a system that means so much to so many.

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Of course, there is no mention in this article about U.N. Treaty or the Bradley Amendment, which prohibits child support arrears from being changed or removed – but the article does pretend to care (and is much kinder than I am). Meanwhile, the welfare queens still have control over America at great cost to all Americans. – MJR

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