With the recent murder of South Carolina father, Walter Scott, who ran from the police because he had a warrant for failing to pay child support, The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement Agency (OCSE) is trying to do damage control. The office has released its March/April Newsletter comprised of articles discussing child support enforcement and incarcerated parents. Nothing in the articles will be able to pacify advocates of child support reform even though there are great details describing the relationships between the prisons administrators and child support enforcement agencies across the country. The newsletter showcased states that allegedly offer assistance to incarcerated parents but fails to even mention possibly abolishing the laws that actually sentence parents to prison because they owe child support in the first place. According to OCSE (2015), one in two state prisoners are parents. Instead of eliminating jail as a punishments for parents, states such as Indiana, offer information as a viable resource for incarcerated parents. The goal of the different agencies when implementing such programs is to help parents incarcerated in state prison facilities navigate the child support system and understand their rights and responsibilities, (OCSE, 2015). Information can be an important tool when one’s freedom is not being threatened. However, children and parents, could be better served by our government agencies when dealing with child support issues if tangible changes were made in order to, not only eliminate prison as a punishment for owing child support debt, but ensure that 100% of the child support payment reaches the children. Currently, Indiana retains all of the received child support payment in cases where the family receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. Not to mention, a parent that is convicted of nonsupport of a child can be found guilty of a Class D or Class C felony. A Class D felony conviction can carry a three year sentence while the C felony can mean that a parent spends eight years behind bars. The fines, if convicted, will add at least $10,000 to child support arrears which that will continue to accumulate during incarceration. Indiana parents do not need information more than they need to be excused from the debt that quickly adds up while incarcerated accompanied with the elimination of the threat of being arrested once freed from prison. The Child Support Report (2015) shares that after release, many owe an average of $23 thousand or more in child support. Much of this debt is the result of interest, penalties, and fees that build during imprisonment. Some parents may consider themselves lucky if they live in the state of Kansas and only owe $23,000 in child support debt upon release. This is because, according to the National Conference of State Legislators or NCSL (2013), Kansas can fine its parents who fail to pay support $100,000 and jail them for seven months if convicted. The state offers a couple of programs that may reduce state-owed arrears, but the amount excused is only a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the average debt owed by newly released prisoners. Obligors can receive an adjustment of up to $2,000 on state owed arrears if they complete approved courses in prison, (OCSE, 2015). This amount will do very little to decrease the amount of arrears for most imprisoned parents in the state. In 2013, $669,234,974 was the total amount of arrears owed in Kansas (NCSL, 2014). This astronomical amount can be attributed to the 8% interest that the state charges on late payments. The arrears reducing programs offers minimal benefits to incarceration and newly released parents. When the money for child support is collected, the excessive amount of arrears will always decrease the amount of money that will actually be paid directly to the children. Arizona is a state that focuses on education as a means to reduce arrears for incarcerated parents. A group of agencies including, The Arizona’s Division of Child Support Services, have created a program which promote three specific aspects of debt forgiveness. The program, according to OCSE (2015), created a concept of a three pronged arrears program which consists of
The idea of assisting parents with such programs may be a soothing solution for the heads of office that want to appease people that do not agree with the child support system. However, this plan may backfire. The amount of money that may be forgiven is not a significant amount when viewing the big picture of allegedly child support debt owed by parents. For example, when a parent completes the GED program, they can apply for a reduction of arrears. Unfortunately, debt forgiveness is not automatic. According to the OCSE (2015), the child support office encourages noncustodial parents to complete a GED program so that they can apply for a $1,000 waiver of state assigned arrears. It would be more beneficial to parents and children if there was other opportunities offered after program completion, as well as guaranteed debt forgiveness. A thousand dollars could be quite significant for a noncustodial parent if he or she only owed a thousand dollars in arrears. That is not the case in manyy situations. As of 2013, the state of Arizona reported a total of $1,737,681,855 and there was only $402,671,342 owed in current support, (NCSL, 2014). These programs offer no substantial assistance to parents as they face reentry barriers after being released from prison. The OCSE newsletter continues to describe a few other programs that are supposed to help incarcerated parents with maintaining and paying child support debt upon release. The best solution for these parents is to have zero child support debt owed upon release from prison. The punishment of imprisonment for parents that owe child support debt should be abolished as it seems to lend only a minimal deterrent to parents. This especially when they are simply unable to afford the payment. One of the major misconceptions of the child support program in TANF cases is that the child support is supposed to repay the case award distributed to the low-income family. This award is a grant and not a loan. This means that this money is not supposed to be repaid to the government. This money has already been paid for through taxes. Adding the interest, penalties, and fines on money that is technically not a loan is even more criminal than incarcerating poor people because they cannot afford to pay a debt. In this quest for child support reform, we must first rid parents of the threat of imprisonment as a punishment for failing to pay child support debt. Parents, like Walter Scott, should not be jailed because they struggle to pay their bills. And no person, parent or not, should be gunned down in the back while fleeing possible arrest for owing any type of debt in the United States. This is 2015, we should start living in the present instead of reenacting the debtors’ prisons and similar punishments of the past. References: National Conference of State Legislatures. (2013, January). Criminal nonsupport and child support. Retrieved from www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/criminal-nonsupport-and-child-support.aspx National Conference of State Legislatures. (2014, May 20). 2013 State by state data on child support collections. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/2013-state-by-state-data-on-child-support-collections.aspx Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2015). Child support report (47-3). Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/march_april_2015_child_support_report.pdf
- a hardship forgiveness program,
- a consistent payer program,
- and a Personal Development Initiatives program.
On the surface veteran Torrey Eubaire seems to be just like many other former Navy sailor and divorced father. As a disabled vet some days are admittedly a physical struggle. However, there is a more mental and financial burden that has an ever tightening grip on Torrey. The ever-tightening choke hold he faces is the unrelenting child support enforcement punishments that is the result of a divorce which left him legally named father to a boy that he could not have possibly helped create. Why? He was overseas at the time of conception and delivery of the now 13 year old boy. The reason? Based on the laws in many states, including Texas and Louisiana (states holding the Eubaire child support order), marriage automatically means that the husband is the legal father to any child born during the years of matrimony. According to the Texas Attorney General’s website, when a baby is born to married parents, the law automatically recognizes two legal parents-husband and wife. This would be acceptable in Torrey’s case except he was deployed to another country. Short of Immaculate Conception, there is no way that Torrey Eubaire fathered the child in question.
Over the years, this man has been subjected to all of the punishments inflicted upon alleged ‘deadbeat’ dads. His license has been suspended numerous times and he has been arrested several times and has actually served several months in prison because of non-payment of support. During one of those prison stays, he lost a teaching job at ITT; one that he has been unable to return to upon his release and even after several attempts were made for reemployment. As an advocate for child support reform, I have filed a complaint with the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement or OCSE in Washington D.C. on behalf of Mr. Eubaire, pleading to have his case terminated due to paternity fraud. Unfortunately, paternity rescission in Texas and many other states is almost impossible after the allotted amount of time has elapsed after a case has been opened. If a child’s mother is married to a man other than the biological father at the time of birth or work in 300 days of the ending of a marriage, the (ex)husband is presumed to be the legal father, (The Texas Attorney General). It doesn’t seem to make a difference that Torrey was defending his country as this situation began to unfold. This can be proven by responses from the OCSE after the most recent complaint filed.
In their response to our latest complaint, Torrey was told that ‘the Office of Attorney General and the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement do not represent individuals’ (personal communication, April 16, 2015. Why then, is there a complaint page on the OCSE designed to assist complainants with issues with the local child support offices? In fact, the website specifically states that, if your problem does not get solved at the state level. ‘Please contact the federal OCSE’, (OCSE, 2015). This proves that the respondent is not following the intended purpose of the federal office. The respondent advises Torrey further by stating that ‘if you believe the child in question is not yours and want to pursue this, you will need to get an attorney’ (personal communication, April 16, 2015). If the task of resolving this issues is not possible, why would the office tell anyone to hire a costly attorney to help with the complaint? Easy. It is all about the money. Not to mention the hiring of an attorney impossible for Torrey considering that he is disabled, unemployed, and fighting severe depression largely based on this circumstance. There has not even been a mention of the small amounts of money that Torrey does receive in income tax refunds, like the most recent $60 and $350 from state and federal refunds respectively, were snatched by the government in order to repay a whopping $55,000 he allegedly owed in child support debt.
The government agencies that have been tasked to regulate the state child support agencies are abandoning parents that need help with their cases. Recently, men like Carnell Alexander of Michigan, Willie Carson of Texas, more recently, Randall Smith of North Carolina, have made national headlines as being victims of paternity fraud. This is but a small number of men who have chosen to fight back against the injustices that are being executed against them for simply being named as the father by the mothers of these children. The child support system is wrought with bias and unfair laws targeting men that are actually biological fathers. The fact that non-biological fathers are forced to endure the same punishments associated with failing to pay child support should outrage anybody when they are made aware of these victims of paternity fraud. It is not enough that the system operates as extortionists, demanding money in exchange for freedom and holding licenses hostage until a ransom is paid when child support payments are not current.
Men who have done nothing, outside of having sex, are being humiliated, criminalized, and hunted with the same vigor and tenacity that is used when pursuing actual delinquent biological parents. While we fight for reform, men that have not fathered children, need to be granted access to free paternity testing, whenever such a test is requested. As soon as the test reveals that the man is ‘not the father’, every enforcement tactic, including the actual child support order, associated arrest records, and negative credit reporting, should be eliminated with the states’ sincere apologies. If there is any money owed to the state for testing, fines, child support, interest, and penalties, the responsibility for repayment should be shifted to the mother. We need to end the paternity fraud epidemic so that men like Torrey do not lose their basic human rights while being treated like a ‘deadbeat’ dad. Forcing women to face the same financial repercussions and punishments as those that men face in this child support system may prevent future cases of paternity fraud. The burden that falls on the shoulders of men should either be carried by both women and men, or be completely eliminated. The child support system is unconstitutional in so many areas. Forcing men like Torrey to endure child support enforcement punishments when they are not actual fathers constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2014, May 15). Issues with your local or state child support agency | Office of child support enforcement | Administration for children and families. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/issues-with-your-local-or-state-child-support-agency
Texas Attorney General. (2011, October). Paternity child support and you. Retrieved May 7, 2015, from https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/files/cs/Paternity_CSandYou.pdf