Recently more news outlets seem to headline more instances of men owing child support and child support arrears for children that they did not father. These situations are not unusual but due to social media, there seems to be more attention focused on this seemingly unjust action against these alleged fathers. There are several reasons that the court may deny a man a child support order termination when he is not the biological father. One reason is that the man may have signed a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). According to the National Conference of State Legislatures or the NCSL, states must establish a voluntary paternity establishment program. If a man chooses to voluntarily sign a paternity acknowledgment, there are time limits in most states which dictate when an acknowledgment can be rescinded. Paula Roberts, of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), writes that an opportunity to rescind must be offered during an initial 60-day period. Either the man or the mother can rescind the acknowledgment within the 60-day time limit in most cases. This can be executed without problem unless an administrative or judicial proceeding involving the parent and child is brought at an earlier time, (Roberts). A request made in court can only be requested if certain situations occurred which forced the man to sign the document voluntarily.
According to Roberts, the reasons include fraud, duress, and material mistake in fact. Unfortunately, the judges and the court systems do not follow the laws as they were written in cases of rescinding paternity. For example, a Nebraska man was granted a petition to terminate a child support order and to set aside paternity due to DNA testing. This was allowed despite the fact that an AOP was signed five months after the delivery of the baby. The state did not seem to appreciate the court referee’s decision and appealed. Lori Pilger of the Lincoln Journal Star (2014) reported that a Nebraska Supreme Court majority said the distinct court had gone too far on its own initiatives. This meant that the court should not have pursued any decision based on paternity. The officials should have only decided what was in front of them which, in this case was a child support modification request. The court, according to Pilger, turned a motion to modify child support into an action challenging paternity and set aside the finding of paternity. This injustice has caused the man to try and fight again in court but history does not offer much in the way of optimism. This man should plan for a prolonged and unfair fight ahead of him, especially since the court did not consider the fact that the ‘child’ was 19 at the time of this ruling.
Some states will allow an administrative rescission of paternity while others require the judicial process be followed when requesting a termination of parental and financial responsibility for a child. In an administrative rescission, the mother and the alleged father who wish to rescind must notify the birth records agency, (Roberts). During this process, a notary must verify all pertinent information which must be entered into a specific form or by written request. The administrative process is more informal than the judicial process. Roberts writes that a party desiring to rescind an acknowledgment must go to court. Going to court does not guarantee that the acknowledgment will be rescinded. It also does not mean that child support debt will be forgiven. It is nearly as difficult to end parental responsibility as it is to have child support debt waived.
In Houston, TX, there was an instance of the system helping non-biological parents while hurting them at the same time when a man found out that he did not father a child in 1983. The KHOU Staff (2012) wrote that a new state law said that men no longer had to make child support payments if they can prove the child is not theirs. This law may satisfy men that have made payments on time and that do not have child support arrears owed on their cases. But is does nothing for men that are already indebted to the government thanks to the Bradley Amendment of 1986. According to Douglas Reid Weimer, a Legislative Attorney for the American Law Division, the Bradley Amendment prohibits the retroactive modification of child support arrears. The law has once again proven itself unfair because even though the man should not be paying child support, the accumulated debt still must be repaid. For this Houston resident, that meant that more than $50,000 in child support debt (some of which is interest) must be paid for a child (now at least 28 years old) that he did not father.
There are some stories, not many but a couple, where men have beat the 60 month deadline and were not obligated to pay support. An Oklahoma man almost missed the deadline when he requested a DNA for two children even though he signed an AOP. According to Ed Doney of KFOR (2013), after the 60-day deadline a man would have to prove that he was deceived into thinking he was the biological dad. It is not easy to prove fraud, and even if proven, the Bradley Amendment prevents relief from any child support debt. Again, a man must prove that he was a victim of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact, (Doney, 2013). There is no consideration of the fraud, duress, and material mistake in fact that can accompany the feelings of disappointment and helplessness when a man realizes that a child is not his own. This criterion only applies to stopping an ongoing collection for child support payments.
There are no apologies, no feelings concerning the ‘best interest of the man’, or a guaranteed system to return any money already paid in child support. The state often tells victims of paternity fraud that they can sue the recipient of the child support payments if they want any financial recovery. This is often expensive and unrealistic so many men opt out of pursuing any repayment at all. If any money is repaid, the intangible costs such as the harassment suffered and being subject to derogatory stereotypes still remain. There can be no repayment for the time spent in the courthouse or lengths of time spent in prison cells. In most cases, it is too late to repair the damage caused by wrongful paternity claims. The government must find a way to correct this inequality as quickly as possible. Once day longer is too long for a man to suffer from paternity fraud.
Doney, E. (n.d.). DHS deadline requires child support from men who aren’t biological dads | KFOR.com. Retrieved from http://kfor.com/2013/06/10/dhs-deadline-requires-child-support-from-men-who-arent-biological-dads/
KHOU Staff. (2011, June 23). Houston man forced to pay child support for child that DNA proves isn’t his. Retrieved from http://www.khou.com/story/news/2014/07/17/11498310/
National Conference of State Legislatures. (n.d.). Child Support 101.2: Establishing Paternity. Retrieved November 11, 2014, from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/enforcement-establishing-paternity.aspx
Pilger, L. (2014, May 16). Man who isn't biological dad responsible for child support, court finds : Journal Star Breaking News. Retrieved from http://journalstar.com/news/local/911/man-who-isn-t-biological-dad-responsible-for-child-support/article_6c861757-7d2a-5557-b022-cd0a1ce34970.html
Roberts, P. (n.d.). Truth and Consequenses: Part I. Retrieved from http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/0111.pdf
Weimer, D. R. (n.d.). THE BRADLEY AMENDMENT: PROHIBITION AGAINST RETROACTIVE MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT ARREARAGES. Retrieved from http://congressionalresearch.com/RS20642/document.php?study=THE+BRADLEY+AMENDMENT+PROHIBITION+AGAINST+RETROACTIVE+MODIFICATION+OF+CHILD+SUPPORT+ARREARAGES
One of the most unrelenting issues that create barriers for parents trying make on-time and consistent child support payments is the lack of employment opportunities . At the peak of the great recession, it is estimated that the US lost 8.7 million jobs between 2007 and early 2010, (Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, 2014). The federal government has initiated a large grant in the hopes of assisting Americans with finding and keeping gainful employment. According to a United States Department of Labor (DOL) Press Release (2014), the DOL announced $169,771,960 in grants to expedite the employment of Americans struggling with long-term unemployment. This announcement should bring hope that the many counties across the country will receive more money to assist non-custodial parents combatting extraordinary child support debt. Grantees will work with numerous sources including state unemployment insurance programs and faith-based and community organizations with the anticipations of getting Americans back to work.
As it stands, there are several programs around the country that are tasked with assisting non-guardians with becoming gainfully employed. Most are funded by these same government grants awarded to assist unemployed citizens, but the demand from parents seems to exceed the supply of programs and assistance. The Parent Success Initiative or PSI is a work employment program that has received a significant grant to assist non-custodial parents with job placement and arrears management. The Greater Syracuse Work and Onondaga-Cortland Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services (OCMBOCES) received $3,947,065 from the United States DOL in 1999 to create and operate the PSI (Greater Syracuse Works, 2009). Even with such a healthy budget, it does not seem that enough parents benefited from the grant money. As of 2009, there were only 555 noncustodial parents served and only 135 employment entries, (Grater Syracuse Works, 2009). This means that less than 3% of parents were truly being helped with steady employment over any great length of time. If the government continues to pay grants to the cities, the money must be used to benefit the non-custodial parents in a more significant manner. This must include better employment opportunities for the hard-to-employ parents and realistic debt forgiveness programs.
The Department of Human Services of Georgia has been working with the Goodwill of North Georgia in an attempt to assist noncustodial parents tackle employment barriers. Even though the DOL has awarded millions to several states with the hopes of helping parents and ex-prisoners with employment, the reported data from the Child Support Fatherhood Program in 2011 leaves a lot to be desired. According to Robert Nibbs, a Georgia Community Outreach Coordinator (2012), out of six counties that participated in the initiative, there were only four intake classes and an average of two classes a month. This limited number of classes could hardly be expected to effectively serve or benefit the 150-500 targeted parents. Although the intentions may be pure and the government could actually care about the livelihood of parents and children, there must be more concentration focused on using the money to better ensure long-term growth and security. There were only 20 participants in the program group and 18 in the control group, (Nibbs, 2012). This low-number of participants will do little, if anything, to tackle the problems that accompany unemployment as it relates to child support payment reduction or eliminating child support debt. Throwing money towards chronic unemployment and accruing debt without an actual solution, will only perpetuate, not eliminate, the problems.
Finally, in the Buckeye City or Columbus, Ohio, the Columbus Urban League has offered the Father 2 Father program for several years. Listed as one of the organizations accomplishments is that the program encouraged graduates to pay or have waived $250,000 in back child support, (Columbus Urban League, 2011). This, although commendable, did very little to decrease the $1.9 billion in owed child support in the state of Ohio during that same year. Programs like the Columbus Urban League often operate on grants and donations. It is paramount that the money received is being fully utilized when taking parents from an unemployed to a gainfully employed status. With the $170 million in grant money being paid to various organizations across the country, these recipients must be held accountable before they spend one dollar.
According to the DOL (2014), participants of these programs will receive job training and support services. The federal government must ensure that the participants are receiving all services that have been paid for during the years that the grant is being paid. During the time of participation in any program, parents should not accrue any child support debt. These parents are not ‘willfully’ failing to pay child support so just as some programs reinstate driver’s licenses and lift arrest warrants, being billed for child support needs to stop as well. Since there is already evidence of lack of employment, failing to excuse the child support debt only guarantees that more debt will be added to the arrears. This can only mean that even employed, these parents have a very slim chance of ever being debt-free from child support.
Even with millions of dollars being awarded in the hopes of assisting the unemployed, without better program participation, more possible long-term employment opportunities and child support debt forgiveness that really works, there can never be success for these programs or these parents. Parents need real help and do not need to start jobs already indebted to the government. These parents can automatically be subjected to garnishments of up to 65% of their pay. The thought of garnishments can act as a disincentive to find work for unemployed parents. Working forty-plus hours a week and not bringing home enough money to cover basic living expenses can be quire discouraging. Since the bulk of the money is going to the state for arrears and not to assist with providing for the children, the child support system is parallel to modern day slavery. This system needs to be at least reformed, if it cannot be abolished. The citizens, especially the children, are the victims of the current child support system.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2014, October 7). Chart Book: The Legacy of the Great Recession — Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3252
Columbus Urban League, Inc. (2011). Columbus Urban League, Inc. | The Columbus Foundation. Retrieved from http://tcfapp.org/PortraitView/PrintPortrait?strBackground=%20&PortraitKey=1560
Greater Syracuse Works. (2009, April). Parent Success Initiative (PSI): A Greater Syracuse Works Employment Support Program for Non-custodial Parents. Retrieved from http://www.greatersyracuseworks.org/GSW%20Flyer%200908.pdf
Nibba, R. (2012, January 18). A Helping Hand to Self-Sufficiency. Retrieved from http://dhs.georgia.gov/sites/dhs.georgia.gov/files/imported/DHR/DHR_CommonFiles/DCSS_Enhanced_Transitions_Job_Grant_Board_Presentation.pdf
United States Department of Labor. (2014, October 16). Ready To Work, Employment & Training Administration (ETA) - U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved from http://www.doleta.gov/readytowork/
United States Department of Labor. (2014, October 14). ETA News Release: Nearly $170M in Ready to Work Partnership grants awarded to help long-term unemployed Americans find work [10/15/2013]. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/eta/ETA20141956.htm
A parent and an author who has survived adverse situations and lived to write about it..