August 27, 2014

 

As penalties and punishments for nonpayment of child support becomes more commonly known, it is important to discuss credit scores as they relate to child support delinquencies. The government can and will do everything in its power to discredit a person in regards to collecting child support from parents.  This includes posting most wanted billboards around a city or plastering a photo of the parent on a pizza box to be possibly delivered to the accused parent’s child. There seems to be nothing left sacred in the pursuit of money from parents. As noncustodial parents are subject to professional, recreational, and driver’s license suspensions, credit reporting is another punishment that can halt any progression towards financial stability for that same parent.  The government must report child support delinquencies to the credit reporting bureau which in turn lowers a parent’s credit score.   According to Administration for Children and Families or ACF, federal law mandates that states periodically report the names of noncustodial parents who have delinquent payments.  This reporting has an immediate negative impact on these parents concerning any significant financial transactions. 

 

It is not only the child support delinquency that shows on the credit report but all information pertaining to that missed payment.  The states must report the amount a parent owes in arrears, (ACF).  Arrears, in my opinion, should not be included in the credit bureau reporting because these are added charges and have nothing to do directly with the child support payment.  Including arrears on the credit report can instantly increase a $1,000 debt to any amount submitted by the state agencies.  Arrears can quickly accumulate to tens of thousand of dollars on what could possibly be a couple of missed one hundred dollar payments.  It is unfair that a parent who may be too poor to pay exaggerated child support debt should be further penalized by negative credit bureau reporting.   One could argue that negative credit reporting is not as severe as license suspensions or being sent to prison.  On the contrary, negative credit reporting can be significantly worse for the noncustodial parent.  Poor credit can impact a person’s ability to find a job, rent an apartment, or obtain insurance, (ACF).  Parents can be penalized because of failure to maintain insurance for children which will be hindered by the credit reporting process. Just as importantly, most parents have low or no income so penalties such as credit bureau reporting, can be the deciding factor between having shelter and becoming homeless. 

 

There are a number of employers that conduct credit investigations before offering employment to an applicant.  According to Blake Ellis of CNN Money (2013), one in ten unemployed Americans have been denied a job due to information in their credit reports.  Reporting child support delinquencies are counterproductive as parents who try to find gainful employment are denied because of negative credit reporting.  There is no discrimination as to what employees are subject to credit inquiries before being offered job opportunities by potential employers.  Credit checks are conducted for all kinds of positions-from entry level to senior management, (Ellis, 2013).  Whether a parent is a has missed many payments or one that has fallen on hard times because of the recent economical downturn, all parents face the same type of repercussions relating to reporting child support delinquency and punishments.  It is contradictory to label a parent as a ‘deadbeat’ and, at the same time, destroy any prospects that are available to him or her to earn a living and pay support.  License suspensions and incarcerations yield no significant child support collections and credit reporting seems to join in that category.  These punishments are not only harsh, but they cannot possibly be expected to force parents to pay support both on time and in full. 

 

Instead of creating more punishments for parents that cannot afford the exaggerated child support arrears, more jobs need to be created.  There was a total $2,961,152,421 of undistributed collections from 2009 to 2013 in all 50 states, (Office of Child Support Enforcement).  This money could easily be used in creating jobs and furthering education instead of incarcerating parents, suspending licenses, and reporting delinquent parents to credit bureaus.  Reporting delinquent payments to credit bureaus should be eliminated especially since it hinders parents from finding gainful employment.  It is impossible to expect a parent to obtain employment and meet all financial obligations with a child support noose tightened around their neck on a daily basis.  The credit reporting travesty is yet another strike against noncustodial parent which only add to an already difficult situation.  When all the money one could possibly earn is used to pay old child support debt, the children will never receive a dime.  The parents, in turn, will be paying child support debt until they hit the lottery or die (whichever comes first).  The punishments being used in order to collect child support payments and debt are not being executed in the best interest of the children.  It is, undoubtedly, a system that operates in the best interest of the state and federal government.  The system needs to be reformed desperately.

 

References:

 

Administration for Children & Families. (n.d.). Assets for Independence Resource Center. Retrieved from http://idaresources.acf.hhs.gov/page?pageid=a047000000Df6Ag

Ellis, B. (2013, December 17). New bill aims to stop employers from conducting credit checks - Dec. 17, 2013. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/17/pf/employer-credit-checks/

Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2014, April 1). FY2013 Preliminary Report - Table P-16 | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/fy2013-preliminary-report-table-p-16

 


 

 

 
 
August 20, 2014

 

In an effort to combat alleged abuses to the welfare system, the U.S. government launched a welfare recovery system.  The system, known today as the Child Support Enforcement Agency, was revamped in 1998 courtesy of former President Bill Clinton.  According to CNN.com (1998), the Deadbeat Parents Punishment ACT entails felony punishment for a parent who moves to another state, or country, with the intention of evading child support payments.  The law was transparent in its meaning and purpose when implemented.  The punishments were made clear as well.  If a debt remained unpaid for over a year, or was greater than $5,000, punishments of a possible prison sentence and fines would be imposed on the guilty parent.  No matter where you find the law written, it is clear that a parent must willfully fail to pay child support as opposed to being unable to pay child support because of financial hardships.

 

There are several points made by government officials which specified the intentions of the reformed child support program and the new law shortly after the re-introduction of the program.  For example, the reintroduced child support program was created to combat the rising number of families relying on the former welfare system.  According to the testimony given by John Monahan, the former Principal Deputy Assistance Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families (1998), child support is an essential part of welfare reform because it sends a message of responsibility to both parents.  There, of course, are not many arguments against parental responsibility.  However, it becomes a problem when government programs shifts its responsibility to care for the less fortunate onto other low-income people.  These programs are supposed to provide a safety net for a family that is struggling to provide basic needs for their children and themselves.

 

The child support system and the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act essentially made it a crime to be too disadvantaged to provide those basic needs.  By the agencies own admission, child support helps to ensure that single parent families and their children do not need to rely on welfare in the first place, (Manahan, 1998).  By transferring the burden from the government to the parents, the system failed to provide cash, food stamps, and medical insurance for those families without providing the necessary tools for those parents to become self-sufficient.  Strict restrictions, including signing over the rights to future child support payments, forced needy parents off of the welfare system and placed that responsibility onto the noncustodial parents.  Theoretically, the burden should be applied to those parents, but reality changes the dynamic when both parents are disadvantaged.  Based on the report by The Department of Health and Human Services (1998), there are many low-income noncustodial parents who want to do right, but who do not earn enough to meet their child support responsibilities.  This means that these low-income parents are not willfully failing to provide for their children and therefore are not breaking any law.

 

Since this information was known and reported over two decades ago, low-income parents should not be labeled deadbeats.  Most circumstances are not appropriately represented by the law and neither are a large majority of parents.  Deadbeats, by law, are those that evade child support responsibilities and willfully fail to support their children.  That is vastly different than being a low-income parent and simply being to poor to meet the obligations.  The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act may have been implemented with the best of intentions, but those intentions have been lost in recent years. States and counties love flooding internet articles and newspaper headlines advertising “Deadbeat” roundups all across the country.  Poor parents are not necessarily deadbeats and the government should stop labeling any parents delinquent on child support payments with such a derogatory term.  Our elected officials and those hired to carry out the law should be expected to acknowledge the distinction between dead broke parents and deadbeat parents.

 

Dead broke should never automatically mean deadbeat.  The welfare-to-work programs that were initially offered when the welfare and child support programs were implemented, needs to be used today.  The extremely exaggerated arrears amounts be erased and the grant money that states use when performance measures are met or exceeded should be reinvested into job programs so that parents will be able to find long-term employment.  These programs will be extremely beneficial to the children and the families and will truly assist with the goal of self-sufficiency.  By employing such programs, the government can pursue and prosecute the real ‘deadbeats’.  Those are the parents that have the means to support the children but willfully fail to provide any support.  The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act and the child support system are just more examples of government borne programs that have waged war against the low-income and poor parents of America.

 

References:

 

CNN. (1998, June 24). Clinton Signs Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act - June 24, 1998. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/06/24/deadbeat.parents.bill/

Department of Health and Human Services. (1998, January 29). Child Support Enforcement Systems Penalties. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/t980129b.html

 

 
 
August 13, 2014

 

The idea of humiliation in order to get results is not new but the act should be terminated in child support cases.  Many parents across the country have been subject to having their faces being showcased on billboards and most wanted posters due to owing child support debt.  Other parents have been subject to wearing degrading signs to announce to the community their inability to pay child support.  There is never any information concerning unemployment, health issues or any mention of homelessness as being reasons that child support has not been paid.  Custodial parents that face hard times can apply for numerous programs that assist with cash, food, and shelter.  Although the criteria that custodial parents must meet in order to qualify for those programs may be difficult, noncustodial parents, mostly fathers, are not afforded such luxuries.

 

Instead, they are at the mercy of the courts and are subject to humiliating punishments such as wearing signs for several hours a day over an extended period of time.  This form of punishment has not been proven an effective motivational tool in forcing parents to pay more or pay more consistently.  But this does not deter judges across the country from handing out these degrading punishments.  As explained in Men’s Legal Center (2014), parents were given a choice of having jail time or having their time reduced if they agreed to stand on a sidewalk corner with a sandwich sigh that said ‘I DO NOT PAY CHILD SUPPORT’.  This is neither beneficial to the children or to the father as carrying out the sentence does not produce any tangible benefits. In Kentucky, three people agreed to do this for four hours per day for 10 days, (Men’s Legal Center, 2014).    Public humiliation will not generate money to pay support so this punishment did nothing for the children.

 

Kentucky is not alone in the practice of disgracing parents into paying child support.  Summit County, Ohio launched a huge campaign in 2007 which utilized billboards as a way of tracking down those parents with felony child support warrants.  The persecutor decided to feature 39 felons on eight regular and digital roadside billboards throughout Summit County, (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008).  The county was able to collect some of the outstanding debt but this was not due exclusively to the use of billboards to induce public shaming.  According to the US Health and Human Services (2008), of the 39 individuals, 13 were located and arrested through receipt of anonymous tips, surrendering upon seeing themselves on the billboards, or sent a payment on their case.  Sending the payments may not be the result of the billboards.  This could be the result of parents finding gainful employment and finally being able to afford the monthly payments. With the use of such an extreme embarrassment tactic, a 100% surrender and collection rate would be better for supporting the use of  this tool for debt collection.  Less than half of parents were ever arrested and the money collected during this operation can hardly be considered as successful.

 

Summit County apparently impressed with the arrest of less than half of their most wanted, introduced a new child support debt collection campaign.  There were 25 faces of parents broadcasted around the county which yielded only 11 arrests.  There were, of course, responses from other parents but a response did not necessarily guarantee collection.  In fact, the total support arrearages at the time of the indictment of the absent parents totaled $1,200,172 (U.S. Health and Human Services, 2008).  Since Ohio fails to pass-through any money to families receiving Temporary Aide for Needy Families (TANF), this humiliation of citizens is for the sole purpose of collecting money for the state.  One would think that this form of forcing debt payment would be lucrative especially since it continues even after courts have struck down this type of punishment.  According to Jennifer King of Lawyers.com (2002), the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court went to far when it ordered a deadbeat parent to appear in public with a sign reading ‘Need a Job to Support Children’. 

 

Although state laws vary where child support is concerned, all states should recognize that another court has deemed this form of punishment as going step too far.  Even with the possible civil liberties violations that Ohio may face, the billboards still appear even though it may cost more than is actually collected to run the billboards.  This is cost that is paid by the taxpayers as well as the emotional cost to the children who may see their parents on the billboards.  After all of the discomfiting, anonymous tips and surrendering, the state only collected $8,461 in 2008.  This is a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the one million plus that parents are accused of owing.  This statistic proves that people cannot make payments without having money.  The stigma of being ‘deadbeat’ and humiliating a payment from someone will never be successful when the people that owe the debt are poor.  Dead broke should never automatically mean dead beat.  The money that counties use to post billboards would be better used in funding jobs programs.  The hours that parents may spend holding a sign on the corner could be spent attending employment assistance programs.  As we recover from a long and damaging recession, in which the US paid billions in bank bailouts, the government needs to start bailing out low-income parents from the continuous indebtedness to the states.

 

References:

 

King, J. (2012, March 19). Public Shaming Used as Punishment for Deadbeat Parents | Legal News | Lawyers.com. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://blogs.lawyers.com/2012/03/publish-shaming-used-as-punishment-for-deadbeat-parents/

Men's Legal Center. (March 13). Child Support Offenders in Kentucky Choose Humiliation Over Jail Time. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from https://www.menslegal.com/blog/child-support-offenders-in-kentucky-choose-humiliation-over-jail-time/

Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2009, March 1). Compendium of Best Practices in Child Support – 2008 | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/compendium-of-promising-practices-good-ideas-in-child-support-enforcement

 
 
August 6, 2014

 

As research leads the path to discovery of new information, certain old information will always remain fresh.  The brain has a distinct way of sorting through what one feels in unforgettable information and data that is easily forgotten.  Prison sentencing for parents convicted of ‘willful’ failure to pay child support is one that remains both fresh and unforgettable during the quest for new information.  To be clear, both state and federal guidelines are absolute in the definition of the criteria that must be met before someone is arrested and convicted for any child support payment issues.  Section 228 of Title 18, United States Code, makes it illegal for any individual to willfully fail to pay child support in certain circumstances, (The United State Department of Justice, DOJ).  This, of course is the federal statute, but all states are uniform when including the word ‘willfully’ in their guidelines.

 

Unfortunately, many parents are not afforded the right to defend themselves against their accusers and are automatically presumed guilty of willful failure to pay.  All states have some sort of imprisonment penalty on record, although some punishments are more severe than others.  States such as Minnesota, Kansas, and Wisconsin sentence convicted parents to three, seven, or nine month prison stays, respectively.  These sentences share the less than a one year time frame with parents that are convicted in federal court.  According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), a violation of 18 U.S.C. 228 is a criminal misdemeanor, and a convicted offender faces fines and up to six months in prison.  To some, six months may seem like a slap on the wrist.  To others, six months may seem like a lifetime, especially when personal circumstances, such as unemployment or illness, may not be considered during the sentencing phase.  And then there are parents that consider a half of a year behind bars a blessing when considering the possibility of spending several years locked away from their children.

 

Before a parent is sentenced to a prison sentence, the state must prove that 1.) the defendant acted knowingly or intentionally and 2.) the defendant failed to provide support, (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2013).  That being said, many parents without attorneys present are sentenced between several years to 14 years depending on the state.  Federal law, at least, specifies that a parent must have failed to pay support for at least two years before the possibility of a felony charge can be initiated.  The states operate under different criteria but it all equals lengthy jail sentences for those convicted of contempt of court.  The maximum sentence for parents convicted in federal court is up to two years.  In Arkansas and Tennessee the two years triples and it quadruples in Illinois and Indiana.  If a parent heads further west and fails to comply with child support laws, prison sentencing really skyrockets.

 

In Montana, if convicted for nonsupport and or aggravated nonsupport (if obligor leaves state or has a prior conviction) that parent can spend 10 years in prison (NCLS, 2014).  This is approximately the same amount of time a person convicted of rape was ordered to serve in 2006.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics or BOJ (2013), the mean maximum sentence length for sexual assault was 96 months or eight years.  The fact that a person in the US can serve a shorter sentence when committing a crime of sexual assault than a person who may be unable to afford child support payments is an unnerving reality. Traveling to Idaho, one will discover that if a parent is convicted of desertion and nonsupport or children or a wife, he can be sentenced to 14 years in prison, (NCSL, 2013).  Traveling back in time to 2006 the DOJ reported that those convicted of murder did only a few years more than the Idaho sentence for failure to pay support.  The mean maximum sentence length for a felony sentence to murder or non-negligent manslaughter was 19.1 years. 

 

There is no logical reason that a parent who may be too poor to pay support should receive a fairly close prison sentence as one who has taken a life.  Fines included with actual child support arrears and the amount of money that it takes to care for a prisoner really opens a portal to the government greed that drives the child support system.   The revenues generated from the imprisonment of poor parents equals money that will never be sent to or used by the children.  The government is the true beneficiaries of the child support system.  It is time to remove prison as a possible punishment for parents, especially when they are poor and are not ‘willfully’ failing to pay support.  Once this has been accomplished, the true reasoning behind the child support system will be finally be recognized  The one time helpful system benefiting abandoned families has been transformed into money generating debt collection agency.  The most significant difference in what the system was meant to be and what it is currently is the distortion of the word ‘willfully’.  Most people do not ‘willfully’ mean to be poor and therefore can be found guilty of ‘willfully’ failing to pay child support.

 

 

References:

 

National Conference of State Legislatures. (2013, January). Criminal Nonsupport and Child Support. Retrieved July 29, 2014, from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/criminal-nonsupport-and-child-support.aspx

U.S. Department of Justice. (2010, November 22). Felony sentences in state courts, 2006-Statistical tables. Retrieved July 29, 2014, from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fssc06st.pdf

The United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). USDOJ: CRM: Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. Retrieved July 29, 2014, from http://www.justice.gov/criminal/ceos/citizensguide/citizensguide_child_support.html