The United States Department of Justice of ‘The Department’ has recently released a detailed letter outlining the injustices that have been applied towards the economically less fortunate citizens of the United States. According to Vanita Gupta, and Lisa Foster of the Civil Rights Division, and the Office for Access to Justice, respectively, the letter is intended to address some of the most common practices that have run afoul of the United States Constitution. Unsurprising to some child support reform advocates, many of the constitutional violations are directly related to the punishments related to owing child support debt. These outlined desecrations are ones that have been objected to by those fighting for reform and equal protections for those entangled in child support cases across the nation. Recent years have seen increased attention to illegal enforcement of fines and fees in certain jurisdictions around the country, (Gupta and Foster 2016).
One could argue, quite effectively, that these violations have been common practice for a lot longer than ‘recent years’ and that child support enforcement punishments are not only illegal but unconstitutional. The people in charge have chosen to ignore these violations successfully at least until now. Even though this report has been released and contains clear and concise opposition of many of the practices executed against low-income debtors, the unconstitutional activities continues across the nation. The Letter identifies seven specific items, which are described by Gupta and Foster (2016), as a set of basic constitutional principles relevant to the enforcement of fines and fees. However, there should be specific attention paid to those principles which address violations within the carrying out of child support enforcement.
To begin, the Department of Justice (DOJ) addresses the incarceration of people when they are indigent and cannot afford the overstated fines and monetary penalties. Based on writings in the letter, courts must not incarcerate a person for nonpayment of fees and fees without conducting an indingency determination, (Grupta & Fisher, 2016). There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of cases involving people being incarcerated due to owing a child support debt even though it had not been proven that he or she has ‘willfully’ failed to pay the debt. There is certain protocol that must be followed before arrest warrants are issued. Unfortunately, when child support ‘deadbeat’ roundups are executed upon parents (some non-parents), there is seldom any mention of the financial status of the arrested party or if there was an indigency hearing conducted prior to sentencing.
For example, since the letter was published by the DOJ on March 14, 2016, there have been at least ten child support arrests (and counting) made across the nation. This letter will undoubtedly increase as states continue to pursue alleged child support debtors. Four days after the DOJ letter was published, Coffee County Alabama made its annual child support arrest raid upon parents who may or may not have financially capable of fulfilling their child support obligation and the arrears. According to Valencia Jones of the DothanFirst.com (2016) they (Coffee County and State authorities) issued 70 warrants before knocking on doors and making several arrests. There are processes in place that seem to be omitted from these raids. For instance, Scott Byrd of the Coffee County Sheriff’s office spoke about the unexpectedness of the round ups stating that “these people don’t know we’re coming”, (Jones, 2016). This statement directly contradicts principles discussed by the DOJ and the due process statutes that must be followed in order for such warrants and arrests to be legal and constitutional.
In the Bearden v. Georgia decision of 1983, it was decided that the due process and equal protection principles under the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit “punishing a person for his poverty.” (Grupta & Foster, 2016). As has been proven in many child support cases that have ended in arrests, most people detained are not criminals. They are just poor. More proof is provided when comparing the low amount of child support that is actually collected as a result of the child support raids to the amount due. The circuit collects about five million dollars in child support each year, (Jones, 2016). However, a mere $30,000 may be the bounty collected after child support busts and this is only an average. This amount can decrease based on how poor the arrestee is and how he or she is able to produce the money needed in order to purchase their freedom.
To further expose the illegalities surrounding child support arrests it must be discussed that the many people who are arrested are held until the child support debt has been paid in full. These prisoners are not granted indigency hearings but are instead held in jail because they are poor. For example, as recently as December 2015, Georgia conducted a raid dubbed ‘Operation Deadbeat Parents’, which resulted in 10 arrests. According to Nathalie Pozo of Fox 5 (2015), the parents arrested must pay a “purge amount” in order to get out of jail. For those unfamiliar with how purge amounts work in obtaining freedom from incarceration, the law definition is basic.
The purge amount is an amount of money that must be paid toward child support arrears in order to avoid going to jail for contempt of support order, (USLegal.com). The definition does not include any explanations of the need for indigency hearings or that the court must prove that a person has “willfully” failed to pay support. This too, by definition, is a basic component of the child support guidelines which, if violated, can mean a lengthy prison sentence in most states. Releasing parents only after a purge amount has been paid without an indigency hearing contradicts the DOJ letter because to do otherwise would deprive the probationer of his conditional freedom simply because, through no fault of his own, he cannot pay the fine, (Grupta & Foster, 2016).
In order to provide further evidence of the unconstitutional actions of government officials who are charged with operating the child support system, one must look at the state of Georgia. There is one action (among many) that cannot be ignored in reference to the ‘deadbeat’ arrests made in 2015. Deputies said that money goes directly to the child or children, (Pozo, 2015). This can be quickly disproven simply by identifying the child support pass-through laws of the state and following the money. According to Michelle Vinson and Vicki Turetsky of the Center for Law and Social Policy or CLASP (2009), Georgia passes-through and disregards some or all support for purposes of fill-the-gap budgeting. There has apparently been no cause to utilize fill-the-gap budgeting during the past five years since zero dollars have been passed-through to the most vulnerable Peach State families who have received public benefits. Not only are non-custodial parents being robbed of their freedom and extorted without due process protections, custodial parents are being robbed of the payments made supposedly for the children. The only beneficiary of the child support system is the government when low and no-incomes are the reasons someone may become delinquent on child support payments.
One of the next principles outlined in the letter from the DOJ describes violations when arrest warrants and license suspensions are used in order to collect child support payments. According to the Grupta & Foster, (2016), courts must not use arrest warrants or license suspensions as a means of coercing the payment of court debt when individuals have not been afforded constitutionally adequate procedural protections. Since license suspensions are often applied as punishment for people who are delinquent on child support payments, it is critical that those affected are granted their constitutional rights and protections during the process. While there are thousands of examples of due process violations during child support arrests based on the failure of judges to conduct indigency hearings before, during, and after ‘deadbeat’ roundups are conducted, it is important to explore the violations related to driver’s license suspensions. Section 466(a)(16) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(16)) mandates that states have in effect laws that require the state to have “procedures under which the state has (and uses in appropriate cases) authority to withhold or suspend, or restrict the use of drivers’ licenses, (Carmen Solomon-Fears, 2011). And, of course, all states follow the law by having strict criteria in place to trigger a drivers’ (and other) license suspension.
The criteria outlined in the law clarify the need for a certain amount of arrears to be owed as well as a specific length of time the debt has been outstanding before a license can be suspended. In West Virginia, Alabama, and Washington State, a person must be at least six months behind on payments before his/her license is suspended. Other states such as Texas and Virginia shorten the length of time a person has before their license is suspended by three months. Even more unbelievable is that the state of California will initiate suspension procedures after only 30 days of delinquency. Remarkably, some states reduce the time even more when suspending licenses. The National Conference of State Legislators or NCSL (2014) shared that in Florida, a driver’s license or vehicle registration will be suspended when obligor is 15 days’ delinquent in making a payment. Due to the time restrictions very specific issues arise in reference to due process requirements. Grupta and Fisher (2016) report in the DOJ letter that if a defendant’s driver’s license is suspended because of failure to pay a fine, such a suspension may be unlawful if the defendant is deprived of his due process right to establish inability to pay.
Based on the number of child support and other civil cases which may result in license suspensions, the likelihood that a person has been given proper notification and granted a hearing in order to determine his or her financial status is unlikely. Only a handful of states address, all-be-it vaguely, the right to a hearing in order to for a judge to determine if a person can afford the payments prior to having a license suspended. The statute in Vermont states that the obligor has 21 days after notification to either contest the claimed delinquency or request an opportunity to present evidence relating to the noncompliance, (NCSL, 2014). The remainder of the nation, with the exception of Washington, D.C., fail to include any rights to indigency hearings as a way of determining the financial status of a citizen prior to the license suspension. DC,gov, the official government website for the district, states that cases with arrears are submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) when no payments has been received within 60 days.
The DOJ letter cites research which has found that having a driver’s license can be crucial to individuals’ ability to maintain a job, pursue educational opportunities, and care for families (Grupts & Fisher, 2016). And yet, there has been no mention of removing license suspensions as a means to punish parents who are delinquent a child support payments and/or owe arrears. As of May 12, 2016, Google searches have recovered a limited number of states recognizing and implementing due process requirements before suspending licenses as punishment for owing child support debt. Florida outlines the notification procedures and suspension process but only for non-IV-D (non-TANF) cases. On the other hand, Utah is very specific in the license suspension process and does not specify if the suspension criteria are based on any particular status.
According to the Utah Department of Administrative Services (2016), once the obligor has been personally served, s(he) has thirty days to respond to the Notice of Agency Action (NAA) and request an informal adjudicative hearing with the Office of Recover/Child Support Services (ORS/CSS). The office does not, however, address any procedures that have been adopted in order to determine a person’s financial ability to pay child support and arrears. The state only addressed the possibility of a repayment plan in order to have drivers’ licenses and restored and how the license will remain suspended if money is not paid. This directly violated the commitment promised by the DOJ to help ensure that citizens receive equal justice and due process when being faced with drivers’ license suspensions.
The next suggestion that has been offered by the letter from the DOJ representatives is in reference to bond and bail amounts as they relate to prohibiting poor people from being released from jail in exchange for money. To be clear, bail is a bond payment for a defendants’ release from jail prior to court proceedings, (Council of Economic Advisors Issue Brief, 2015). Once bail has been paid, the defendant is released, as long as s(he) follows the terms of the bail conditions. In most states, regardless of conviction, bail is fully refunded minus any accrued fees owed to the court or to the bail bonds person (if the arrested must use one to purchase temporary freedom). This is not true for contempt of court child support cases. Even though the DOJ does not identify bail and bond practices related to child support cases, the authors of the letter are clear about the violations that occur when a defendant is indigent and held on child support contempt of court charges.
Grupta and Foster (2016) write that when indigent defendants are arrested for failure to make payments they cannot afford; they can be subjected to another independent violation of their rights. This violation occurs across the country as more and more parents (some non-biological) are incarcerated for undetermined lengths of time simply for being unable to pay the arrears. These citizens are being subject to prolonged detention due to unlawful bail and bond practices. The terminology associated with bail is different (as with many other components) when addressing child support issues and guidelines. For instance, the amount needed to temporarily purchase ones’ freedom is referred to as a purge instead of a bail amount. A child support purge, according to Kaylee Remington of the Morning Journal (2014), is a court ordered amount of money that must go towards child support unpaid in order to avoid going to jail. The greatest difference between bail and a purge is that the money paid in order to secure freedom is non-refundable in purge cases. This means that when a person cannot afford to pay arrears and is subsequently incarcerated due to failure to pay, s(he) has essentially becomes a debtor in prison.
There have been many arguments against the child support system utilizing the outdated and barbaric debtor prisons punishment in order to put people behind bars just because they are poor. Yet, the state and federal governments choose to ignore the blatant violations when officials are enforcing an expelled reprimand. Since the unprecedented Turned vs. Rogers case which was decided in 2012, states are showing little signs of re-abolishing debtors’ prisons or ending the employ of the purge process when incarcerating parents owing child support debt. There have been nearly over a dozen ‘deadbeat’ parent arrest round-ups across the country after the DOJ released its report in March. There doesn’t seem to be any changes to the arrest policies on the horizon.
In early April, Harris County Texas deputies began arresting debtor parents who allegedly owed approximately $20,000 collectively. There was no mention of indigency hearings upon or after arrest or that parents who could not afford to purge the child support amount would be immediately released from custody. On April 28th of this year, Jefferson County, AR executed arrest warrants on delinquent parents christening the plot ‘Operation Mother’s Day’. There was no celebration for the 15 people arrested and detained in order to satisfy a debt. To add insult to injury, the police decided to take the operation a step further in order to humiliate the parents who were being pursued for child support warrants. Based on an article written by Ray King of the Pine Bluff Commercial (2016), the sheriff’s department began posting the photos, names, and amounts owed on the sheriff’s office website and on social media. There was no information provided that any of those arrested were granted an indigency hearing in order to determine their financial status. Arizona is humiliating and hunting parents all while violating due process laws.
Finally, months after the Civil Rights Division in conjunction with the DOJ released the letter outlining the principles that should be applied when citizens are accused of breaking the law, more arrests were executed against people accused of owing child support debt. Andy Mehalshick of the PA Homepage (2016) reported that as of May 1st, arrest warrants were issued for 191 parents, who were in arrears on child support payments. Based on the history of Michigan and the Carell Alexander case, it is not an unreasonable prediction to state that some of the warrants were undoubtedly issued for non-parents as well as actual parents accused of owing child support arrears. Unemployment and underemployment are seldom mentioned in articles bashing the alleged ‘deadbeats’.
Instead there is strong rhetoric concerning the welfare of the child(ren) and any talk of the government retaining billions in collection money for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) families is conveniently omitted. Unfortunately, parents are still being incarcerated and due process rights are being violated. Of the recent arrests in Michigan, the judge sent three fathers to jail until they pay up, (Mehalschick, 2016). Any information concerning an indigency hearing was wither accidently deleted or did not exist. The latter is more believable since 180 parents spent time in prison in 2015. The pattern of unconstitutional behavior and blatant disregard to the law against parents (some non-parents) owing child support debt will continue until ‘We the People’ force the government to comply with its own rules and guidelines.
The federal and state government officials seem to thoroughly enjoy shifting the blame onto one another when questioned about the unconstitutional child support system in America. Once in a while, cases such as Bearden vs. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660,671 (1983) and Turner vs. Rogers, 131 S.C. Ct 2507 (2011) shine the spotlight on the illegalities of programs such as the one enforced by the child support agency. This year, amidst accusations of racial bias and inequalities based on financial status governing who is being legally punished most often and who is met with the threat of more potential financial ruin and debt, the DOJ has stepped in to investigate. The Department has found that poor Americans are being deprived their rights to due process as well as having their equal protections, under the law, violated based solely on financial status. It is not a crime to be poor. Incarcerating parents (some non-parents) for owing child support arrears while being poor without observing their undeniable rights is a serious and inexcusable offense. Before this letter and these basic constitutional principles are swept under the proverbial rug, again, people must hold the officials (child support workers, police, magistrates, judges, etc) accountable when they issue and execute arrest warrants, suspend licenses, and pass-out prison sentences against our most vulnerable citizens. Contrary to the current atmosphere in the US, a person can be in a lower-income bracket and/or considered indigent and still possess excellent parenting skills. The war against the poor, especially those in debt (child support debt or otherwise) must be effectively fought against and conquered if we are to follow the Constitution of the United States. The sooner this happens, the better both children and parents will be in our society.
Council of Economic Advisors Issue Brief. (2015, December). Fines, fees, and bail-Payments in the criminal justice system that disproportionately impact the poor. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/1215_cea_fine_fee_bail_issue_brief.pdf
DC.gov. (n.d.). Child support services division-Enforcement tools. Retrieved from cssd.dc.gov/page/enforcement-tools
Grupta, V., & Foster, L. (2016). Dear colleague letter regarding law enforcement fees and fines. Retrieved from U.S Department of Justice, Washington D.C. website: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:o_5q2DN9164J:https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/832461/download+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Jones, V. (2016, March 18). Arrests made in annual coffee county child support roundup - Story. Retrieved from http://www.dothanfirst.com/news/arrests-made-in-annual-coffee-county-child-support-roundup
King, R. (2016, April 28). Roundup: Operation mother’s day dubbed success | Pine bluff commercial. Retrieved from http://pbcommercial.com/news/local/roundup-operation-mother-s-day-dubbed-success
Mehalshick, A. (2016, May 8). I-Team: Cracking down on deadbeat parents - Story | PAHomepage. Retrieved from http://www.pahomepage.com/news/i-team-cracking-down-on-deadbeat-parents
National Conference of State Legislators. (2014, January 30). License restrictions for failure to pay child support. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/license-restrictions-for-failure-to-pay-child-support.aspx
Pozo, N. (2015, December 23). Operation deadbeat parents - Story | WAGA. Retrieved from http://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/61352073-story
Remington, K. (2014, May 13). Ninth district court of appeals upholds lorain child support case. Retrieved from http://www.morningjournal.com/article/mj/20140513/NEWS/140519955
Solomon-Fears, C. (2011). Child support enforcement and driver’s license suspension policies (R41762_gb). Retrieved from Congressional Research Service website: http://greenbook.waysandmeans.house.gov/sites/greenbook.waysandmeans.house.gov/files/2012/documents/R41762_gb.pdf
US Legal, Inc. (n.d.). Purge mount law & legal definition. Retrieved from http://definitions.uslegal.com/p/purge-amount/
Utah Department of Administrative Services Division of Administrative Rules. (2016, June 1). UT Admin Code R527-260. driver license suspension for failure to pay support. Retrieved from http://www.rules.utah.gov/publicat/code/r527/r527-260.htm
Vinson, M., & Turetsky, V. (2009, June 12). State child support pass-through policies. Retrieved from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:5Qqki5S6M7cJ:www.clasp.org/issues/child-support-and-fathers/highlights/state-child-support-pass-through-policies+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
The cost-of-living-adjustment or COLA has been a significant piece of the economic structure in the United States since 1913 when the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was introduced. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014), the index is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. The COLA is important because this measurement helps determine any increases that should be made to particular entitlements and awards paid by the federal government. COLAs are generally equal to the percentage increase in the CPI for urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W) for a specific period. This largely applies to Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and determine how significant or insignificant the COLA will be to monthly supplements. Unfortunately, for some, based on who is negatively affected, the COLA is also used to determine how much monthly child support payments should be increased every two years. For the record, New York, Minnesota, and New Jersey are the only states that mandate that the COLA be applied to child support payments. On the other hand, some judges include COLAs in their orders when setting child support, (NOLA). Either way, this more than guarantees that the set child support amount being paid by the non-residential parent will increase over the course of the child’s life.
Some may view the COLA increase in child support payments as quite insignificant as the last CPI increase was a meager 1.6% between 2015 and 2016 (estimate). The insignificant theory may ring some truth if that number remained consistently under two percent. However, based on the economical past of the United States, that low percentage is far from a protected and concrete CPI. Take for instance that in the years of 1990 and 2008, the COLA was calculated at above five percent. If a monthly child support payment was $200, the amount paid annually would increase to approximately $535. This is money paid out by the non-custodial parent who is not guaranteed a pay increase based on CPI or COLA. Of course, the COLA may not be applied to a child support order causing an automatic increase if the COLA was zero percent for two consecutive years. However, that has only occurred once since 1975 during 2009 and 2010, (Social Security Administration).
In states that automatically increase child support payment amounts, the money owed due to COLA should also be considered in the bottom line of child support debt owed. New Jersey Judiciary (2016), explains that the COLA shall be based on the average change in the CPI for the metropolitan statistical areas that encompass New Jersey. It is important to determine just how significant the COLA can be when being deducted from a non-custodial parent’s earnings over a period of years. Based on weekly earnings of $1,288 or $5,152 (before taxes) the NJ child support calculator determined that a non-custodial parent would pay approximately $233 weekly or $892 monthly to a custodial parent with zero income. Based on CPI percentages from 2009 to 2016 (2016 is an estimate), the total increase would equal approximately $85.08. This means that the average COLA increase would be roughly $21.27 annually.
Some could argue that $20 (give or take) more in child support is a trivial amount and call for the dismissal of any resistance to allowing an automatic COLA, but further exploration shows just how weighty these adjustments can be to a non-custodial parent. Even though child support is supposed to end after a child reaches adulthood (18 years of age by most accounts), situations where the child is pursuing higher education, a parent owes arrears, or a parent is providing for a child with disabilities, situation can push the obligation period way beyond the legal age of majority. To put this into perspective, a non-custodial parent can expect to pay an additional $1,021 per year, $18,371 over 18 years, $21,440 over 21 years, and more than $25,000 over 25 years. The COLA in NJ could mean approximately $27,542.72 in extra income for the custodial parent based on an average CPI of 2.3%. This is tax free and accountability free money that can land a non-custodial parent on the ‘deadbeat’ roundup list if mandatory increased amount should go unpaid.
New Jersey is arguably the most notorious state when it applies to hunting and arresting alleged ‘deadbeats’. The latest police roundup occurred in October of 2015 when, according to Jessica Remo of NJ.com (2015), the Union County Sheriff’s department conduced a child support sweep and arrested 15 people for failure to pay child support arrears. The total arrears owed by those arrested exceeded $400,000. An additional seven people surrendered to the Sheriff’s office for arrears totaling $171,792.98, (Remus, 2015). That’s quite a huge amount of child support debt to owe with a combination of current payments due, interest, late fees, court costs, and whatever else the judges and legislators deem appropriate to include in the quest of punishing parents who are allegedly delinquent in child support payments. Considering the serious repercussions parents (some non-parents) face when dealing with unpaid child support, mandatory COLAs must seriously be studied in relation to how important removing this mandate from child support payments could be to struggling people.
Moving on to Minnesota, this state mandates that the COLA be added to child support orders every two years. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services or DHS, Minnesota law requires full-service child support and spousal maintenance orders include a COLA provision. Not only is the non-custodial parent required to pay an increased amount of child support automatically, divorced people are required to pay even more. In order to approximate the amount of child support a parent would be forced to pay based on the CPI percentages, consider the base child support amount which begins at $974 per month. This amount is based on the average weekly wage of all workers in the United States within the third quarter of 2015 who were covered by unemployment insurance and unemployment compensation for federal employees, (BLS, 2015). The approximate child support increase based on the average CPI of 2.3 percent, a parent paying an increase of $22 per month. Again, $22 may not seem to be a huge amount but based on the amount of child support debt owed on average and how much is actually collected, $22 may as well be $22,000 for wage earners trying to provide for their basic individual needs.
The Minnesota DHS reported that cumulative past due support or arrears owed as of September 30, 2015 was about $1.6 billion. On the other hand, the amount paid towards child support debt equaled $140 million, (Minnesota DHS, 2015). This lack of significate arrearage collections could be due to the over $2,030 needed to pay for basic living expenses coupled with the slow recession recovery that the state has admitted to experiencing over the past few years. Either barrier can cause quite a catastrophic life event when COLA obligations on forced upon these average to low-wage earners. The difference between the court ordered payment amount and the payment amount with the COLA over the course of 12 months is about $1,115. When that amount is multiplied over the course of 18 years, the amount balloons to an additional $20,070 of untaxed income paid to the custodial parent
Again, stretching the years from 18 to 25 is a more familiar scenario based on the amount of child support debt is owed by parents with valid child support orders in the state. In Minnesota, about 81% of all child support cases have debt (Minnesota DHS, 2015). The years that a parent is paying child support debt automatically increases as long as there is a balance due on the arrears account. Between interest on delinquent payments (currently 4% per annum), late fees, court costs, fines, penalties, etc., an automatic COLA can create a significant burden on parents who may not have piles of cash laying around to be given to anyone (custodial parent included) with no accountability of how the money is being spent.
New York parents fare no different than the other two states as it relates to being forced to pay more money no matter what financial crisis a parent might be facing because of the automatic COLA. For parents that do not have open child support cases through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF (or other public programs), a notice is sent to both parents when a case becomes eligible for a COLA. For parents that do not have open child support cases through TANF (and related programs) a notice is sent to both parents when a case is eligible for a COLA. This gives both parties an appeal opportunity in the decision to increase the child support payment. Low-income parents receiving public assistance, as with many other public assistance programs, are ignored during the notification process.
According to the New York State Department of Child Support Enforcement (NYS DCSE) for cases where the custodial parent or child is on temporary or safety net assistance, the COLA is automatically made when the case becomes eligible. For parents earning a weekly wage of $1,463, this increase could prove detrimental to his or her basic way of life. The average monthly payment for a parent earning the almost $5,900 monthly is an estimated $1,006.50. Based on the previous CPI formulas, a parent can expect child support payments to increase from $217,260 to $239,156 over the course of 18 years. This, of course, is based on a child support payment paid by one parent, with no additional fees or costs over the childhood years. This is the amount that one parent will pay over 18 years which is just shy of the amount that a middle-income married couple pays during that same amount of time. According to Melanie Hicken of CNNMoney (2014), it will cost a middle-income couple just over $245,000 to raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18. This is a definite violation to equal protects under the law as the non-custodial parent is forced to pay what two people are paying minus the extortion tactics by the government.
This amount can vary depending on several factors including income earned, location, and expenses, however, the amount is still based on a middle income couple. Low-income rural families will spend an estimated $145,000 raising their child to 19, (Hicken, 2014). The author does not mention the COLA as a reason for the cost but does point out that overall costs have grown more slowly in recent years, thanks to low inflation, (Hicken, 2015-quoted from Economist, Mark Lino). That slow inflation packs quite a extensive punch for non-custodial parents in NY who are mandated to pay a COLA every two years based on NY state guidelines. The difference between the basic 18 year payment and the payment increased by a COLA is approximately $22,000. This increase occurs automatically and does not consider barriers such as unemployment, underemployment, illness, homelessness, or becoming disabled as a contributing factor to how much one person can afford. The notion that non-custodial parent spends roughly the same amount as a couple spends on raising a child seems quite unreasonable considering that the non-custodial parent must pay or face extremely harsh penalties. Meanwhile, there are no penalties if a couple doesn’t spend the same amount or even less on the same number of children. This is another violation of equal protections. Couples are not held under the same scrutiny, judgmental laws, and guidelines forced upon non-custodial parents and get he or she is held in bondage until the government decides to hand over the key. During this time, the custodial parent is free with no financial accountability for the payments and is not forced to earn money to jointly provide for the child.
The double standard is one of many problems facing New Yok and parents nationwide and the mandatory COLA must be banished from increasing child support payments. One person should not be forced to pay more for caring for a child while the other person is permitted to do nothing. If the COLA is going to cause even more financial hardships on non-custodial parents, the law that requires an increase should be repealed immediately. If the cost-of- living increases, both parents have a responsibility to cover all expenses just as it occurs in two-parent households. Thousands of dollars in virtually ‘free’ money can be used to purchase many items, fund expensive vacations, or adopt a new baby. According to The Independence Adoption Center, attorney adoptions of new born babies generally run between $20,000 and $30,000. The unaccounted for, untaxed money could be used to adopt a child and serving the unsuspecting parent a child support complaint. Thus, the cycle continues. This concept may seem a little farfetched but as a way to collect and spend free money but because there are no little to no restrictions on custodial parents applying for child support and no guidelines on how the money, once received, is spent, the possibilities are endless as well as problematic. The COLA being used to automatically increase child support payments owed by non-custodial parents proves, again, just how extremely one sided, biased, and unfair the child support system can be toward non-custodial parents. We need reform to the unconstitutional child support system in America as soon as possible.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015, December 2). Consumer price index frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpifaq.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016, March 9). Table 3. Covered establishments, employment, and wages by state, third quarter 2015. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cewqtr.t03.htm
Hicken, M. (2014, August 18). Average cost of raising a child hits $245,000. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/18/pf/child-cost/
Minnesota Department of Human Services. (2014, April 11). Cost-of-living adjustment. Retrieved from http://mn.gov/dhs/people-we-serve/children-and-families/services/child-support/programs-services/cost-of-living-adjustment.jsp
Minnesota Department of Human Services. (n.d.). Child support in Minnesota: Facts and figures. Retrieved from https://edocs.dhs.state.mn.us/lfserver/Public/DHS-4744-ENG
New Jersey Courts. (2009, September 1). Cost-of-Living adjustments for child support orders. Retrieved from http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/rules/r5-6b.html
New York State. (n.d.). Child support services. Retrieved from https://www.childsupport.ny.gov/dcse/child_support_services.html
NOLA. (n.d.). What is a cost of living adjustment (COLA) clause? Retrieved from http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/calculating-child-support-faq-29150-6.html
Remo, J. (2015, October 19). 15 arrested in Union County child support sweep. Retrieved from http://www.nj.com/union/index.ssf/2015/10/15_arrested_in_union_county_child_support_sweep.html
While it is somewhat clear that parents who are applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are required to cooperate with child support enforcement, it may not be as clear when applying for other public programs. According to Paula Roberts of the Center for Law and Social Policy or CLASP (2005), one of the requirements is that the person in the family with the legal right to do so must assign to the state any rights any child has in the family to receive child support. This law is the reason that most states have the authority to retain most, if not all, child support payments during and after a period of time that a parent receives cash TANF benefits. This regulation is so lucrative to the government that a reported $32 billion was collected on behalf of 16.3 million children. If a family was receiving or has received TANF benefits, the amount passed through to those families was a miserable $118,136.280. In contrast, the amount that the government retained during that same period was approximately a $10,268,017,098. Due to the guidelines being more specific when TANF benefits are sought by a low-income parent, it is easy to believe that all public programs mandate cooperation with the child support agencies. This is true to a certain extent, however, the requirements for cooperation are largely controlled by the individual state. To begin, Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) are both federally controlled medical programs providing health insurance to people and children who have incomes (or lack thereof) that qualify. The individual who is the decision-maker must assign their rights to child support over to their respective state. The individual must also assign the medical support rights of any children in the family if he/she has the legal capacity to do so, (CLASP, 2005). These mandates are essentially uniform across the country, nevertheless, there is fine print associated with these laws that affect how medical benefits are awarded and maintained. For instance, all states must establish a “good cause” statute for persons’ who refuse to cooperate with child support enforcement. In most states this clause only applies in very limited circumstances. According to Roberts (2005), these reasons include:
Any other one may offer to justify using the ‘good cause’ clause when refusing to cooperate with child support enforcement usually do not apply. Failure to cooperate does not mean that the parent loses all of his or her benefits. Quite the contrary occurs when refusal to cooperate has been recorded by the county child support caseworkers. If a parent refuses to cooperate, that individual will be denied Medicaid benefits. However, all children within the household and/or listed on the case documents are still eligible for Medicaid. Roberts (2005) states that this is because the statute requires cooperation from those who are “legally able”. Parents can legally refuse to sign their rights to child support payments (current and future) over to the government without retribution regarding their medical benefits. The children are still legally eligible for medical benefits offered by the state with no penalties and/or sanctions. Based on the current state of the medical and insurance systems in America, one could argue that no insurance at all is equivalent to receiving state funded medical insurance. Thus, refusing to sign over rights to child support in exchange for Medicaid may be a better option for the parent and the family. SCHIP child support cooperation requirements are quite similar to the Medicaid requirements in that the program serves low-income children and refusal to cooperate with child support enforcement cannot terminate benefits. This is due to the fact that the federal statute does not contain a child support assignment or cooperation provision, (Roberts, 2005). Children cannot have private insurance while participating in SCHIP which has caused some dilemmas for the states that have chosen to include SCHIP in their Medicaid expansion program. There is currently no requirement that state Medicaid agencies refer applicants or recipients to their state child support agency, (Roberts, 2005). Unfortunately, parents are not being told this important information and are still being made to sue for child support thus assigning all child support payments over to the state. There are a handful of states that have chosen to manipulate the guidelines as a way to force parents to cooperate with child support enforcement. By structuring the SCHIP program as a Medicaid Expansion, the Medicaid assignment and cooperation provision would apply, (Roberts, 2005). Less than 15 states have decided to use this example as a way to mandate child support participation. States could implement SCHIP as an entirely individual program. By doing this, the Medicaid guidelines would not apply but the state could write its own policies to impose cooperation requirements for low-income parents seeking medical insurance for their children. It is important to note that if the state implements its SCHIP program through a Medicaid expansion and the individual that enrolls the children refuses to meet the assignment or cooperation requirements, the children, nonetheless, are still covered, (Roberts, 2005). There are many parents being deceived by case workers as they are told that certain criteria must be met in order for medical benefits to be awarded. Parents must be correctly informed in that even if they refuse to participate with the child support agency, the children will still receive medical benefits. This is the law regardless of which state medical program that the parent chooses to apply. Another benefit that many people believe requires cooperation with child support enforcement is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. While states may have different titles for their SNAP programs, the purpose of the program remains the same across the nation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture or the USDA (2015), SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals, and families. This program is often the difference between children eating or starving so it is essential that the administrators of this program relay accurate eligibility information to all applicants. The Food Nutrition Program (FNS) works with state agencies, nutritional education, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits, (USDA, 2015). This is the reason that it is particularly disturbing to learn that parents applying for SNAP benefits are being forced to sue for child support in order to receive food stamps. Although the federal government decides the general eligibility criteria for all state funded programs, the statute is obvious when explaining child support cooperation in exchange for food stamp benefits. The Food Stamp Program (FSP) is available to people who need help purchasing food. However, states have the option to impose a child support cooperation requirement on either the custodial or noncustodial parents who participate in FSP, (Roberts, 2005). As of November, 2010, there were 18 states that include child support cooperation mandates in the FSP eligibility requirements. There are two specific requirements that must be met in order for the applicant to be approved for the FSP. Some states have implemented a comparable disqualification clause or a CS. Roberts (2005), explains that in this case, the state does not have a specific cooperation requirement for Food Stamp households. Ohio and Georgia are a couple of states that have added a CD provision in the eligibility requirements of FSP and child support. It is more specific to all public programs in that applications and recipients who fail to perform an action (including child support cooperation) in TANF are automatically sanctioned by the food stamp program as well, (Roberts, 2005). Of course, if an individual is only applying for food stamp assistance, disqualification due to failure to cooperate with child support enforcement should not be an option. The SNAP program is in place to help the most vulnerable families but the states with child support stipulations seem to have the highest dependents relying on the FSP to eat. For example, Rita Price of the Columbus Dispatch (2014), wrote that the share of Ohio households reporting limited and uncertain ability to provide nutritious meals averaged 16% from 2011 to 2013. The economy recovering from the Great Recession is undoubtedly one cause of this elevated percentage. Food stamp cuts and rising grocery cuosts are keeping thousands of Ohio families from escaping the Great Recession’s worse effects, (Price, 2014). The eligibility requirements that Ohio imposes on applicants that force people to sue for child support should also be included as one of the reasons for the food insecurity experienced by the most vulnerable Ohioans. The number of people experiencing food insecurities can be found in Georgia as well. The Georgia Food Bank Association (2016) reported that 28.1 of children in Georgia-1 in 4 children-live in food insecure households. Children should not be forced into starvation while there are more than adequate food programs in operation to support the less fortunate. The limitations that the child support statutes impose on the hungry people of this nation are deplorable. Cooperation with child support enforcement should not be the determining factor when deciding whether or not our most needy citizens will eat or starve. Not to mention, there have been reports of case workers demanding the cooperation with child support in exchange for food stamps. This does not and should never apply to parents who are only applying or enrolled in a FSP. Another provision that some states choose to adopt is to have a distinct child support cooperation requirement for FSP participants. Wisconsin is currently the only state with that specific language written into the law. According to The Department of Workforce Development (1999), if an adult food stamp applicant or recipient fails to cooperate without good cause, the individual is not eligible for food stamps. Applicants should understand all of critical stipulations added to the federal statutes and their rights and the rights of their children when refusing to cooperate with child support enforcement is the chosen path. During the disqualified period, the rest of the household does continue to receive assistance. The strict child support cooperation requirement may be directly linked to the increase in child poverty in Wisconsin. Gilman Halsted of Wisconsin Public Radio (2015) reported that there was a 5 percent increase in the number of children living in poverty from 2008-2013. With such a significant increase in child poverty, it is the responsibility of the state legislators to ensure that food stamp cases are not deemed ineligible due to the head of household failing to cooperate with child support enforcement. The children should remain eligible for food stamps even when the adult refuses to sue for child support. There are a total of three states that have a distinct child support enforcement cooperation requirement and a CD clause in place. Florida, Mississippi and Michigan all enforce sanctions, or loss of benefits, when people do not comply with suing the nonresidential parent for child support. In West Michigan alone, one in four kids are affected by hunger, (24 Hour News 8 Web Staff, 2015). Children are faring no better in Florida. Recent studies show that the state has more than 3.4 million residents, including 1.1 million children, who are food insecure, (Florida Association of Food Banks, 2014). These numbers are quite alarming. Florida could possibly experience a significant reduction if child support cooperation requirements were removed from the eligibility criteria. In 2013, No Kids Hungry in Mississippi reported that 27% of kids in Mississippi struggle with hunger. The number has ballooned due to several barriers in Mississippi and in many other states across the country. In addition to slow employment growth, TANF time limit restrictions, and the overwhelming number of ‘working poor’ Americans, there was the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill. The conference agreement included a SNAP benefit cut which would save $8.55 billion over ten years and shrink benefits for about 850,000 households in 17 states, Congressional Budget Office or CBO (as cited by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2014). The results have proven extremely disastrous for Mississippi. Eleanor Goldberg of the Huffington Post (2014) wrote that inefficiencies in the way SNAP is run in Mississippi is of paramount concern. Surely, the child support cooperation requirements are part of that concern. Essentially, the families who are already struggling will face challenging situations because of the Farm Bill and the additional restrictions that are mandated by the state in order for a family to receive food stamps. The average SNAP recipient in Mississippi receives about $4 a day, (Goldberg, 2014). This bill will only prove disadvantageous to the children of the state. Child support is supposed to assist the family so that they do not have to rely of government assistance as well as provide overall security for our children. When the government implements and enforces mandates that force participation in the child support program in order to receive aid to purchase basic human necessities, the children will ultimately suffer. This is apparent when observing child hunger statistics in the states that have distinct child support cooperation requirements as law and enforce CD cases for the most vulnerable families. Finally, some states require child support cooperation when a parent (or individual) in charge of the decision making for the child(ren) applies for state funded child care. There is no mystery that child care costs can be astronomical in the United States. Child care prices range from about $3,583 to $18,773 a year, according to BabyCenter.com, which leaves many parents with one option-state child care assistance. Many are faced with the tough decision of choosing whether working is economically feasible when considering child care expenses. The child support cooperation requirement is mandated in approximately 14 states for parents seeking public assistance to offset child care costs. The states have enacted laws or policies that requires custodial parents to use the services of the states’ child support enforcement program, (Roberts, 2005). Texas requires child support cooperation in exchange for state subsidized child care. The child care program is operated through The Texas Workforce Commission. According to the Commissions’ webpage, those eligible for child care assistance include children under the age of 13 whose parents are receiving or transitioning off public assistance or whose families are low-income. There is no specific information concerning the requirement of child support participation but it is law. This requirement can certainly cause an unwanted and unnecessary barrier for parents seeking employment assistance and are forced to sue the other parent for child support. Forcing parents to choose between filing a lawsuit against someone or be denied resources to needed employment assistance is a cruel way to empower these parents into becoming self-sufficient, let alone, leave to welfare system completely. Some states, like Texas, may be vague in explaining the child support cooperation requirements in their information provided to the public, but other states pretend that the criteria relating to receiving subsidized child care include child support cooperation in its statutes. New Mexico has recently been exposed for doing just that to applicants. Caseworkers have been allegedly forcing survivors of domestic violence to sue for child support or be denied child care assistance. The State of New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department or CYFD is distinct on the eligibility requirements that a person must meet in order to receive subsidized child care. Eligibility is determined by gross monthly income and family size, (CYFD). It is reprehensible that in November and December of 2015, the agency was accused of forcing survivors to sue for child support. Based on a report by KRWG (2015), the OLE’ Working Parents Association had heard from dozens of women who said applications for state child care assistance came with conditions. The conditions did not include family size or income levels but rather criteria not identified in the federal or state statutes. The county officials were requiring domestic violence survivors to get restraining orders against their former partners and to sue abusers for child support. These imaginary mandates could have had dangerous, or ever worse, fatal results. This breach of ethical and legal boundaries is extremely disturbing. Every parent in the state of New Mexico and across the nation needs to aware of the actual laws and mandates when applying for child care services. They should know whether or not the case workers are supposed to be forcing them to comply with child support enforcement or if they are trying to increase performance measurement criteria so that the maximum amount of incentive money is paid to the state by the federal government. After applying for child care, the parent must supply a plethora of information in order to be approved for the subsidy. According to CYFD, the documentation needed are as follows:
- Situations where there is domestic violence,
- The child was conceived through rape or incest, and
- Where a parent is contemplating placing the child for adoption.
- Current proof of earned and unearned income (including child support income) for applicant and biological parent, stepparent, and/or legal guardian living in the household, if applicable
- School schedule, if applicable, for applicant and biological parent, stepparent, and/or legal guardian living in the household (if applicable)
- Verification of birth for all applicant children
- Proof of residency
- Name, address and phone number of the child care provider selected (for new registered home providers, the provider’s social security card and picture ID are needed)
Clearly, within the guidelines and required actions and/or documentation, there is no mention of filing restraining orders or suing for child support. The head of the New Mexico CYFD has approved the adding of a new box to child care assistance forms that parents can check off to indicate to state workers that contacting a former abuser for support would endanger families, (KRWG, 2015). However, this extra box is not necessary because there is nothing on the actual application questioning whether child support enforcement is either wanted by parents or mandated by the government. The caseworkers need to be retrained to understand the specific guidelines as they relate to public programs and child support cooperation requirements. Those hired to operate the system are making it much more difficult for the most vulnerable by constructing their own rules and regulations. This is not only illegal, it can be quite dangerous.
In conclusion, it is detrimental to the well-being of children and to individuals that the information being delivered by local, state, and federal caseworkers is both accurate and legal. Just as applicants can face stiff penalties, financially and with possible prison sentences, our public employees should be in jeopardy of facing such punishments when lying to their clients. It is the mission of the state and federal governments to recover welfare costs by using the child support system. However, people should not be denied benefits because of inflexible laws and blatant lies used in the scheme of increasing government revenues. Our government is made up of elected officials, our employees, and as such, they must comply with the guidelines of their employee handbook just like all other employees. Bending the truth or withholding important information that can and will hinder families from not only gaining self-sufficiency, but hinder a family from getting food, should be a crime. It is time to force the government to follow the same rules that every person in America is expected to follow. We must reform the child support system, but in the meantime, we have to force the representatives of the local governments to follow the law when processing all applications requesting state assistance. The officials must be held accountable when executing the federal and state funded programs. Our children deserve better.
24 Hour News 8 Web Staff. (2015, May 27). Go orange day to raise awareness for childhood hunger | WOODTV.com. Retrieved from http://woodtv.com/2015/03/27/go-orange-day-to-raise-awareness-for-childhood-hunger/
Babycenter.com. (n.d.). How much you'll spend on childcare | BabyCenter. Retrieved from http://www.babycenter.com/0_how-much-youll-spend-on-childcare_1199776.bc
Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. (2014, February 3). Summary of the 2014 farm bill nutrition title: Includes bipartisan improvements to SNAP while excluding harsh house provisions | Center on budget and policy priorities. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/research/summary-of-the-2014-farm-bill-nutrition-title-includes-bipartisan-improvements-to-snap
Department of Workforce Development. (1999). Child support cooperation requirements (99-44). Retrieved from http://dcf.wisconsin.gov/memos/ops_memos/bwf/1999/pdf/99-044.pdf
Florida Association of Food Banks. (n.d.). Hunger facts | Florida association of food banks. Retrieved from http://www.fafb.org/hunger-facts/hunger-facts
Georgia Food Bank Association. (2016). Georgia food bank association | Surprising facts about hunger in georgia. Retrieved from http://georgiafoodbankassociation.org/make-a-difference/surprising-facts-about-hunger-in-georgia/
Goldberg, E. (2014, March 27). 25 percent of people in mississippi can't afford food. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/hungriest-states_n_5028586.html
KRWG.org. (2015, December 12). New mexico child support forms add safeguard for abuse victims | KRWG. Retrieved from http://krwg.org/post/new-mexico-child-support-forms-add-safeguard-abuse-victims
No Kid Hungry Campaign. (2013). No kid hungry in mississippi. Retrieved from https://www.nokidhungry.org/pdfs/NoKidHungryMISSISSIPPI_June2013.pdf
Price, R. (2014, September 4). Ohio rates among the worst states when it comes to hunger problems | The columbus dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/09/03/food-insecure-kids.html
Roberts, P. (2005). Child support cooperation requirements and public benefits programs: An overview of issues and recommendations for change. Retrieved from Center for Law and Social Policy website: http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/files/0252.pdf
State of New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. (n.d.). Child care assistance | CYFD. Retrieved from https://cyfd.org/child-care-services/child-care-assistance
Survey shows more wisconsin children living in poverty | Wisconsin public radio. (2015, July 21). Retrieved from http://www.wpr.org/survey-shows-more-wisconsin-children-living-poverty
Texas Workforce Commission. (n.d.). Child care services | Texas workforce commission. Retrieved from http://www.twc.state.tx.us/jobseekers/child-care-services
United States Department of Agriculture. (2015, August 21). Supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) | Food and nutrition service. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap
Kenya N. Rahmaan
For all who may be unfamiliar with Michigan native, Carnell Alexander, and his paternity fraud case, here is a recap. Carnell became a victim of the child support system after an ex-girlfriend named him as the father of her child while applying for public assistance. One of the mandates for women (some men) applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is that they sue for child support. There were several issues with the child support law suit that were not corrected over the span of two decades. One major issue is that when a person is named in any law suit, he or she must be properly notified about the charges against them. As a matter of fact, Michigan rules state that a complaint in a civil case (whether filed in a circuit, district, or probate court) must be served on each defendant named in the case, along with a summons issued by the clerk of the court, (Michigan Courts). Even though the state produced signed documentation supporting evidence of proof of service, the state was fraudulent in that claim of service.
Mr. Alexander had undisputable proof that he could not have possibly been legally served the summons and the complaint over twenty years ago. He did not reside at the address listed on the court documents. Further, he was incarcerated on the exact date that the process server listed on the proof of service paperwork. The second problem with the child support case against Mr. Alexander is that once he was notified of the accusations of fatherhood, he submitted a DNA test which determined that he was not the father. These two extraordinary factors did not deter the state of Michigan from naming Mr. Alexander a ‘dad by default’ and enforcing child support punishments against him.
Over the years, Mr. Alexander has been subject to wage garnishments, tax offsets, license suspensions, arrest warrants, and, eventually, incarceration. Mr. Alexander humbly stated to Kim Russel of WXYZ Detroit (2015) that he was ‘almost homeless, almost in jail’ as he stood in line outside of the courthouse unaware of his being allowed to leave after seeing the judge. After the story became international news in early 2015, the Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette, filed documents to dismiss the child support case in its entirety. Unfortunately, AG Schuette refused to dismiss the $30,000 plus debt that the state accused Mr. Alexander of owing in child support arrearages. Still under the extreme stress of owing tens of thousands of dollars for a child that he did not father and the fear of losing his freedom on a daily basis, Mr. Alexander continued his fight for justice.
Due to his tireless crusade with the assistance of his attorneys, Cherika Harrison and Barry Franklin Keller, as well as Child Support Reform Advocate, N.K. Clark, a small victory can be declared in the case of the state of Michigan vs. Carnell Alexander. On October 9, 2015, Mr. Alexander received notice from officials that stated that the $30,000 plus in arrears allegedly owed by this ‘dad by default’ had been completely erased. Unfortunately, the arrears have been erased under fraudulent circumstances. Not only does the state charge that Mr. Alexander requested the arrears be erased in writing (something that he vehemently denies), the officials state that the arrears are being erased due to Mr. Alexander’s ‘extremely difficult situation’. The state officials, once again have erred in their execution of a court proceeding, forged government documents, and refuse to admit any wrongdoing in this serious and unprecedented case.
Although Mr. Alexander says that he is relieved with the debt forgiveness, he is dismayed by the state of Michigan refusing to admit the mistakes made during his case. He hopes that his situation will force the government to introduce and implement legislation that will prevent what has happened to him from happening to anyone else. He feels that his work is not complete and will be leading the fight for reform to the child support system, especially for men declared ‘dads by default’. In order to assist other men who may be victims of paternity fraud and ordered to be a ‘dad by default’, Mr. Alexander has founded The Carnell Alexander Foundation. He plans on helping men pay for DNA tests when they cannot afford to pay themselves and who are 100% positive that they are not biological fathers. Mr. Alexander works in conjunction with The Reform Child Support NOW! Movement. The Reform Child Support NOW! Movement is a grassroots organization which advocates for child support reform while assisting people with various issues encountered when dealing with child support enforcement agencies.
If you or someone that you know are dealing with issues ranging from denial of child support modifications to paternity fraud, please contact Carnell Alexander at 313-939-3447 or N,K, Clark at 614-344-1669. For more information, please visit thecarnellalexanderfoundation.com and http://thechildsupporthustle.com.
Michigan Courts. (n.d.). Serving court papers. Retrieved from courts.mi.gov/self-help/center/general-information/pages/serving-court-papers.aspx
Russell, K. (2015, February 17). Judge says man must pay $30K in child support for kid who is not his. Retrieved October 24, 2015.
There are many people in the United States in support of incarcerating parents when they become delinquent on child support payments. Of these many, some refuse to acknowledge that locking people away simply because cannot afford a child support debt, has long since been outlawed. In fact, almost every state and the federal government has implemented child support laws and guidelines specifically stating that a person must willfully fail to pay support. Unfortunately, these laws are purposely ignored when it applies to the arrest of child support debtors in the United States. To begin, the federal government lists its criteria justifying arrests based on child support issues on several government webpages. According to Office of the Attorney General (1997), the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992, Pub. L.No. 102-521, makes the willful failure to pay past due support obligation with respect to a child residing in another state a federal offense. There are additional elements that make nonpayment of child support a crime such as a parent being aware of the past due amount or owing a balance of greater that $5,000, but none of the criteria should be considered if the key element of the law has not been broken.
Unfortunately, for too many parents, federal law enforcement ignores the guidelines enacted by our own government officials when executing arrest warrants on alleged ‘deadbeat’ parents. This is clear when scrutinizing the arrest record of William Anthony Robson, a/k/a Rick Albrecht. Mr. Robson was arrested in 2011 in Trumbell County, CT. Aaron Leo of ThePatch.com (2011) reported that Robson made no voluntary child support payments. The Federal government lists other criteria that prosecutors must prove were violations to the Child Support Recovery Act before a parent can be arrested and convicted of breaking the law. However, these violations do not include failure to make voluntary child support payments.
According to the Office of the Attorney General (1997), the US government must prove that the defendant:
OR is an amount greater than $5, 000
- Having the ability to pay,
- Did willfully fail to pay,
- A known past due (child) support obligation,
- Which has remained unpaid for longer than one year
In the Robson case, the family had previously resided in New York but moved to another state. The choice to move, according to the article in ThePatch,com was a decision made by the mother. The state could not have faulted the different residencies to the father when it applies to the enforcement of a child support order. His ex-wife moved to Connecticut with the couple’s four minor children, (Leo, 2011). Tom Carson of the U.S. District Court in Hartford made another statement which contradicts the federal law. Mr. Carson said that minimal payments have been made through wage garnishments and seized state income tax refunds, (Leo, 2011). This means that, although, Robson was accused of failing to voluntarily pay child support, some child support had been paid. As it relates to the federal statute, the father in this case, does not appear to have broken any law. However, he was held with no bond after his initial court appearance. If convicted, Robson faced a maximum jail term of two years and a maximum fine of $250,000, (Leo, 2011).
- For a child who resides in another state.
There are barriers such as unemployment, homelessness, and disabilities that can prevent a person from paying any type of debt, including child support debt. These hindrances do not mean that a person has willfully failed to pay, but merely that they could not afford to pay. The difference must be distinguished. Willfulness to dodge making payments must be proven before any person is jailed and held without any type of bail. The federal government has set the stage for the states to violate laws when pursuing indebted parents.
One of these states that blatantly break the law with no repercussions is Pennsylvania. The state with the motto of virtue, liberty, and independence is a state that is immodest about executing child support ‘sweeps’ and arresting delinquent parents while clearly breaking the law. This state is specific on its incarceration policies in conjunction with failure to pay child support. Pennsylvania Code (2007) specifically states that an obligor (noncustodial parent) who is in civil contempt cannot be incarcerated without the present ability to fulfill the conditions the court imposes for release. In other words, the noncustodial parent must be able to pay the court imposed support amount yet refuses to pay the money owed. Being able to afford to pay the child support bill but being financially unable to do so does not constitute breaking the law. This extremely important statue is often ignored when pursuing these indebted Pennsylvanians.
As recently as May of 2015, Philly.com reported the arrest of nine people during a sweep conducted during the early hours in Montgomery County. The defendants were accused of skipping out on a total of $66,382 in child support for nine kids, (Alex Wigglesworth, 2015). There is no mention of the financial standing of the arrested citizens. The article does not include employment status, living situations, or physical/mental disability conditions which could hinder a person from obtaining and sustaining long term employment that would help pay the child support payment. As the law states, the person being arrested must be able to comply with the court demands in order to be in violation of contempt of court. The child support system operates on a guilty until proven innocent system. In these cases, innocence is waged on the amount of money a person can scrounge together in order to purchase their freedom. There is no consideration of the laws in Pennsylvania, or any other state, operating these modern day debtors’ prisons across the United States. This state, as far as child support enforcement is concerned, greatly fails in living up to its state motto.
Take for instance, the state of New Jersey. This state is notorious for conducting child support sweeps. In accordance with federal law and the law in the majority of all other states, a parent must purposefully fail to pay support in order to face punishment. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that arrested citizens must be advised of their right to an attorney during the court proceedings. The Legal Services of New Jersey Law (LSNJLAW) explains, in detail, the process by which a parent may be arrested and the duties of the hearing officers when pursuing the arrest and prosecution of a litigant. According to LSNJLAW (2013), if the hearing officer finds that the noncustodial parent does have the ability to pay and is willfully refusing to do so, the hearing officer will make a recommendation to the court. The recommendations include placing the case in a bench warrant status or for the hearing officer to issue an actual bench warrant. The key criteria is that the person must be willfully failing to follow the child support order. The recent arrests of 25 people during a July, 2015 child support sweep are questionable, if not absolutely illegal. Of the $440,712.91 in allegedly owed child support debt, the jailed parents only paid a total of $11,040 in order to buy their freedom. In fact, only one person paid the total amount of child support due, while six people arrested could not pay a single dollar towards their child support debt. The local sheriff bragged about the strong sting stating that the roundup was a great success as far as the statistics show, (Carly Kilroy, 2015). Statistically, these arrests were actually a failure since approximately .02% of the child support debt was collected. The failures continue when considering that most of the people arrested paid the bare minimum to escape imprisonment. One arrestee paid a whopping $50 out of the total owed child support debt of $22,106. This is further proof that New Jersey is violating the law of the land by incarcerating people who do not have the means to pay the exorbitant amounts of child support debt.
Jeffersonville, Indiana is one of the most recent cities that have executed arrest warrants on parents who have fallen behind on child support payments. Lauren Adams of WKLY.com reported that the Clark County Sheriff’s Department said 32 parents owing $339,348.76 have been arrested. There is nothing in the article that mentions that the rights of the arrested parents have been preserved before, during, or after the raid. It is clear that the range of debt owed varied from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, however, there is no mention of any of the parents purposefully ignoring the child support order. The law stipulates, according to the Office of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, that the Child Support Division is required to file a Verified Information form for a hearing on a Rule to Show Cause when a person is delinquent in child support payments.
This verification is necessary because it assists in proving that a person has the means to pay support but willfully fails to pay the amount due. Once notification has been received by the obligor or defendant, he or she is supposed to be granted their day in court to show why the child support has not been paid. At the hearing, it must be established that the person was aware of the support order. Unfortunately, there is no proof that notification was given to any of the people arrested. By his own account, School Resource Officer, Kevin Fisher, stated that the only things given on the warrants is a date of birth and an address, (Adams, 2015). Once could argue that the address provided means that notification has probably been provided to the obligor. However, Fisher continues by stating that those addresses on the warrants are usually not very reliable, (Adams, 2015).
Nevertheless, the parents were hauled into jail over the owing of a child support debt. Once at the hearing, it must be established that the person had the ability to pay and willfully failed to pay, (Clark County Prosecuting Attorney). This clause seems to have been ignored before, as well as after, the arrests. This is evident based on the statement offered by one of the detectives interviewed by Stephen Johnson of WDRB.com. Detective Maples said no money had been collected, (Johnson, 2015). Statistically, most parents who owe child support debt are unemployed or underemployed. Those barriers do not definitely establish a willfulness in failing to pay support, but this accusation must still be proven by the court system. Once parents are jailed, the courts will pass down judgment and or set up on a payment plan, (Johnson, 2015). This is essentially jailing people that cannot afford to a pay a government owed debt. The operation of debtors’ prisons has been outlawed since the 1800s, but have mysteriously resurfaced in the American child support system with almost no objections.
We, as US citizens, must demand that those entrusted with the authority enforcing the child support guidelines and regulations follow the law of the land. These requirements should apply from the top of the judicial echelon, the federal and state law makers down to the child support worker and the arresting officer. It is more than apparent that the majority of the people arrested during these child support roundups have not broken any laws. The proof can be explained in the dismal collection amounts that were reported after the arrests. If people had the means to pay the support, the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed would have surely been swapped in exchange for freedom. Since this is not the case in these instances, and many others across the country, these people should be released immediately. The child support system must have accountability when enforcing the laws. There are too many lives at stake to accept anything less than absolute constitutionality and legality from our governments.
Adams, L. (2015, July 29). School resource officers track down deadbeat parents | Local News - KCCI Home. Retrieved from http://www.kcci.com/news/school-resource-officers-track-down-deadbeat-parents/34419182
Johnson, S. (2015, January 28). Clark Co. sheriff's deputies use unusual manpower to find 'deadb - WDRB 41 louisville news. Retrieved from http://www.wdrb.com/story/29653299/clark-co-sheriffs-deputies-use-unusual-manpower-to-find-deadbeat-parents
Kilroy, C. (2015, July 29). Somerset county: Non-Support warrant sweep results in 25 Arrests | Basking ridge, nj patch. Retrieved from http://patch.com/new-jersey/baskingridge/somerset-county-non-support-warrant-sweep-results-25-arrests
Legal Services of New Jersey. (2006, June). LSNJLAW - New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Ruling About Right to a Lawyer in Child Support Enforcement Hearings. Retrieved from http://www.lsnjlaw.org/Family-Relationships/Child-Support/General-Information/Pages/NJSupreme-Court-Ruling.aspx
Leo, A. (2011, January 25). Trumbull man allegedly owes $175,000 in child support | Patch. Retrieved from http://patch.com/connecticut/trumbull/trumbull-man-allegedly-owes-175000-in-child-support
Prosecutive guidelines and procedures for the child support recovery act of 1992 | AG | Department of Justice. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/ag/prosecutive-guidelines-and-procedures-child-support-recovery-act-1992
The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney. (n.d.). Child support: How is the support order enforced? Retrieved from http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/child/child2b.htm
The Pennsylvania Code. (2007). 231 Pa. Code Rule 1910.25-7. Indirect criminal contempt. Incarceration. Retrieved from http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/231/chapter1910/s1910.25-7.html
Wigglesworth, A. (2015, May 6). Nine arrested in montco child-support sweep; more sought. Retrieved from http://www.philly.com/philly/news/Nine_arrested_Montco_child_support_sweep.html
The Obama Administration and the federal government have released the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or the NPRM. The publication is listed under Federal Register, Volume 79, No. 221 and was released on November 17, 2014. The register proposes numerous changes to both state and federal child support regulations. The Republican controlled Congress has proposed a bill to stop the Administration from implementing these changes. Although the proposed adjustments to the guidelines conveniently exclude any mention of abolishing the license revocation process or the ending of applying interest and other financial penalties to delinquent payments (among other issues), there are some items listed that have caused the GOP to scream foul. According to Congress.gov (2015), the bill, H.R. 2688, introduced on June 9, 2015, would block any action from being taken to finalize or give effect to a certain proposed rule governing the Federal child support enforcement program. The specific concerns that have been outlined by GOP leaders seem to be issues that not only help the noncustodial parents in their times of need, but underscore the violation of particular rights that are supposed to be afforded all America citizens when dealing with legal matters. In a press release offered by House and Senate lawmakers which was released in June of this year, four top ranking Republican officials accused the Administration of violating the law by excluding Congress in the implementation of the proposed rules. The claim was that, not only were the fundamentals of the child support and welfare laws being shaken from their foundation, there were other crucial flaws with the proposed changes. Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman, Charles Boustany of Louisiana is on the record stating that the President’s rule could potentially let delinquent parents ‘off the hook’, (Ways and Means Committee, 2015). There is no language within the Federal Register that remotely suggests that parents would be excused from paying child support or arrears. There is language, however, that could assist parents when faced with adverse situations. According to Chairman Dave Camp of House Ways and Means and Senator Orrin Hatch, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance (2014), one of the issues being challenged by lawmakers is that the NPRM makes Federal financial participation available to the new job services program, other expanded items, and other allegedly de minimis items. The other expanded items that the Republicans are against funding are all components that would benefit the child and the parent. For example, minor transportation expenses such as public transportation money are included in the list of additional expenses. Parents could use bus fair to participate in child support proceedings and related activities, (Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs, 2014). Parents that are unable to attend child support hearings cannot present a case in their own defense once they have been sued for child support. It is crucial that they have access to transportation to and from the hearings, even at the expense of the government. Many child support orders are obtained by default judgments. Based on the definition provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or HHS (2014), a default judgment is a decision that a tribunal makes when the defendant fails to respond or appear after proper notice. The tribunal, or the legal authority, can then apply any amount and any terms to the child support order with no exceptions. The fact that the government officials are opposing changes that will provide money for transportation to such hearing means that those officials do not mind denying people the right to face their accuser in the court of law. It is not enough that defendant must be properly served, people must be given every opportunity to attend the court hearing. Not being able to afford transportation to and from the courthouse should be no reason to find a parent in default and ordering unrealistic child support payments be made on a regular basis for at least eighteen years. One of the other costs being argued against is the alleged de minimis. De minimis costs are costs associated with the inclusion of parenting time provisions entered as part of a child support order and incidental to a child support proceeding, (Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs, 2014). By law, child support and visitation issues are separate and as such, different fees can be charged when heard before a judge. The Federal Register would like any additional fees that would, traditionally, be charged when deciding parenting time to be considered too insignificant to charge the noncustodial parent for the time and money it may cost in order to process such requests. The GOP would rather vote on a measure that would force parents to pay for those insignificant fees. Deciding on a parenting plan should be something that the government encourages but instead, it is something that our officials are trying to defeat. The less money spent on trivial items means more money that can possibly be spent on the children. Thirdly, Camp and Hatch are ordering a halt to the creating of a new job services program to assist unemployed and underemployed noncustodial parents. According to PolicyLink.org (2015), Federal financial participation (FFP) is available for job services for eligible noncustodial parents that are identified in the state plan. Currently there are only eight states in the entire country participating the National Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration or CSPED. The states are the recipients of the employment demonstration programs which began in 2012 and ends September 2017. The Department of Health and Human Services or HHS (2015) reported that each grantee will receive $775,000 in 1115 demonstration funds over five years. This is money that will be used to assist noncustodial parents in many areas that hinder him or her from finding and retaining long-term and adequate employment. Once the FFP is added, the total amount of funding available to each grantee over five years is $2.3 million, (HHS, 2015). The GOP does not agree with this new jobs program proposal even though 42 other states have been excluded from participating in such an important program. The Letter from Congress (2015), states that the NPRM creates a new job services program not found in the list of allowable program types in the federal statute. While the allowable program types offer limited assistance in a small number of states to some parents, these programs barely scratch the surface when it comes to decreasing the employment needs of low-income people, especially parents. HHS (2015) has recently revealed that 70% of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents with no or low reported income. It seems only proper public policy that the government help these poor parents find gainful employment. Instead, the Republican leaders believe that the NPRM goes too far by stating that it adds new eligibility criteria for this new program, (Camp and Hatch, 2015). The new eligibility criteria which these leaders have referred to as ‘particularly flagrant’ reveal strict and specific qualifications that must be fulfilled before a noncustodial parent can be declared eligible for employment and training programs. According to the Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs (2014), the noncustodial parent must:
The GOP claims to have introduced H.R. 2688 to ensure that any changes that have been introduced are voted on as opposed to becoming law by way of an Executive Order signed by President Obama. Of course, it is no secret that the GOP has failed to support many programs designed to assist those living in poverty in their time of need. For example, Nick Wing and Arthur Delaney of the Huffington Post (2015) reported that Missouri State Representative, Rick Brattin (R), proposed banning food stamp recipients from using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) to buy steak and seafood. Banning low-income people from eating, what is arguably, healthy food is immoral and unethical. If it is not illegal, it most certainly should be placed in that category. To single out items that may seem too expensive to be consumed by a poor taxpayer proves the insensitivity of many GOP leaders express when deciding on important legislative decisions. GOP leaders attempted to decrease the number of people receiving public assistance across the country by mandating that applicants pass a drug test before being approved for any benefits. Consider states that have recently passed legislation in order to drug test public assistance applicants and recipients. According to National Conference of State Legislatures or NCSL (2015), Utah passed H.B. 155 requiring individuals applying for cash assistance to complete a written questionnaire screening for illegal drug use. Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma have implemented drug testing laws along with Utah and all state have Republican governors. A state that has passed a drug testing law for TANF recipients, which ruled unconstitutional by two federal courts, is Florida. Governor Rick Scott signed an executive order requiring that state employees and public assistance recipients submit to a random drug test. Stacy Singer of the Palm Beach Post (2011) conveyed that hundreds of thousands of Floridians could have been affected forcing them to submit to drug tests or risk losing their public jobs and benefits. After a few years and the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the higher courts have forced Governor Scott to surrender. The Huffington Post (2015) reported that U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven in Orlando originally declared the law requiring urine test for the applicants to be unconstitutional search and seizure. Scott has publicly declared that the ruling will not be appealed under his administration. This does not mean, of course, that a new governor will not attempt to pass legislation in the future in order to drug test TANF applicants and recipients. This defeat for Scott has nothing to do with the fact that the 11th Circuit found that only about 206 percent of Florida welfare applicants failed the drug test during the four months the law was in effect, (Huffington Post, 2015). This is yet another illustration of the lack of compassion displayed by the GOP. If these officials are left to vote on the passing of effective employment program that will benefit low-income parents, voters must consider all of the other programs that Republicans have attempted to disband over the years. A final issue that is being challenged by Republican leaders pertains to the Executive Order declaring new policies regarding incarceration of noncustodial parents and the state plan. According to Camp and Hatch (2015), the NPRM creates a new condition requiring a state to provide notice to both parties when a noncustodial parent (NCP) is incarcerated. The current law does not include such a provision. In most states, the NCP must affirmatively request to have their orders modified, (CLASP, 2015). This is one of the main reasons, along with the fact that most states regard incarceration as voluntary unemployment, that child support arrears become too unmanageable for parents upon release. There is nothing in the child support federal statute that requires the state to notify an incarcerated parent of any request for child support modifications. As explained in the Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs (2014), states may elect to initiate review of an order after being notified that a NCP will be incarcerated for more than 90 days. This process should already be written into the statutes. There is no national data that specifies how much parents (some non-biological) truly owe in arrears upon their released from prison, however, a few states have provided those statistics. For instance, in a study conducted on 650 parental inmates in Massachusetts, there was an average of over $10k in child support debt owed upon the day of entry. Without modifications, and after completing the prison sentence, the released parents were buried in child support debt. According to Jessica Pearson (2004), they (the parents) will accumulate another $12,461 in child support debt, plus 12% interest ($6,254), and 6% penalty charges ($3,128). By implementing the new statute found in §303.8, parents will have a better opportunity of overcoming barriers upon their release, thus being better providers for their children. The GOP is more concerned with the fact that the current required contents of state plans are authorized in, and typically amended by, statute, (Camp and Hatch, 2015). If the people in charge were actively seeking ways to assist parents and revising the child support laws to ensure a better the system, perhaps the signing of an Executive Order would not have been necessary. The NPRN has actually introduced solid and viable solutions to pressing issues that are experienced by most, if not all, low-income parents. Since incarceration is a possible punishment which could end the freedom of a parent for at least one day or even years (14 in Idaho), there must be stipulations on the law books to protect the rights of an incarcerated NCP. The NPRM offers another protection to parents who are imprisoned as well as the custodial parent which has met with the disapproval of some of those in Republican Party. The Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs (2014), lists a proposal stating that the state must provide notice when the agency learns that a noncustodial parent is incarcerated, to the incarcerated parent and the custodial parent. The current law does nothing to specify any notice conditions of a jailed parent. This means that the payments, arrears penalties, and fees will continue to accumulate without any official notification about the debt or the case to either parent. Under the new statute, both parents are informed of the right to request the state to review and, upon request, to adjust the order, (The Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs, 2014). By implementing this seemingly minor process, millions (perhaps billions) of dollars can be reduced in the amount of child support arrears owed by parents across the nation. It is no secret that former President Clinton and the Republican led Congress are responsible for the monstrosity called the Deadbeat Punishment Act of 1998. This attempt to recover welfare payments from noncustodial parent has been an almost complete failure where low-income families are concerned. The government fares far better in collections and retentions of child support payments courtesy of the collection and distribution laws. The Obama Administration, following federal guidelines, have proposed legitimate and desperately needed changes to the unconstitutional child support system. These proposals offer minimal improvement to the law. Yet, Republican officials would rather pass a law arguing against the avenue used to implement the changes, instead of having a serious discussion about the benefits of a systematical facelift. This stall tactic will only prolong the passing of much needed improvements to the child support system and possibly eliminating others. The delay will continue while children and parents continue to suffer from the current child support laws. Make no mistake, even with the possible improvements, the system remains extremely flawed. The Child Support Enforcement Agencies, both state and federal, need a complete overhaul. Parents should not be ‘nickel and dimed’ when going to court over child support and visitation issues. There should be no discussion about the accumulation of arrears while a parent is incarcerated. The laws allowing the incarceration of poor parents and/or adding the burden of heavy debt on these parents should be abolished. In America, the need for more employment and training programs are needed to assist low-income parents, especially as the country continues to recover from the recession. Furthermore, people should be notified, in writing, of any possible changes to child support orders. Parents should not be excluded from receiving notification simply because they are incarcerated. People have the right to know when they are being sued. Equally as important is a person knowing when a judgment changes for or against his or her best interest. It is time to hold all politicians responsible for repairing the broken child support system and the destroyed lives that are the direct result of failed child support policies. References Camp, D., & Hatch, O. (2014, December 22). Ways and means forms. Retrieved from http://waysandmeansforms.house.gov/uploadedfiles/nprm_scanned_letter_12.22.14.pdf House of Representatives. (2015). H.R.2688 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): To block any action from being taken to finalize or give effect to a certain proposed rule governing the Federal child support enforcement program. | Congress.gov | Library of congress. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2688 Huffington Post. (2015, March 5). Rick scott gives up trying To drug test florida welfare applicants. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/05/florida-welfare-drug-testing_n_6807268.html National Conference of State Legislatures. (2015, May 8). Drug testing for welfare recipients and public assistance. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/drug-testing-and-public-assistance.aspx NPRM: Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. (2014, November 17). Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/nprm-flexibility-efficiency-and-modernization-in-child-support-enforcement-programs Pearson, J. (2004, March 9). Building debt while doing time: Child support and incarceration. Retrieved from http://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/Building-Debt-While-Doing-Time-Child-Support-and-Incarceration.pdf PolicyLink. (2015, January 12). The new proposed child support rule: What it means for low-income fathers. Retrieved from http://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/1%2012%2015-ChildSupportRule-Slides.pdf Singer, S. (2011, March 11). Gov. rick scott's drug testing policy stirs suspicion. Retrieved from http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/business/gov-rick-scotts-drug-testing-policy-stirs-suspicio/nLq8f/ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, & Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2014, March). Changing a child support order. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/changing_a_child_support_order.pdf U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, & Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2015, March). The national child support noncustodial parent employment demonstration (CSPED). Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/csped_fact_sheet_1_march_2015.pdf Ways and Means Committee. (2015). House, senate lawmakers announce bill to reaffirm congress’ role in welfare policy - Ways and means. Retrieved from http://waysandmeans.house.gov/house-senate-lawmakers-announce-bill-to-reaffirm-congress-role-in-welfare-policy/ Wing, N., & Delaney, A. (2015, April 21). A day in the life of a welfare recipient, according to GOP legislation. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/21/welfare- recipients-gop-legislation_n_7103126.html
- have a IV-D case
- have a current child support order
- be unemployed or not making regular payments
- not be receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) assistance or assistance funded with state dollars counting towards TANF maintenance of effort (MOE)
- not be enrolled in a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment Training Program
- not be receiving the same job services under Workforce Investment Act (WIA)
- not receiving a Federal Pell Grant
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
It is important to examine the benefits that people receive from the government once they become single parents in America. There is a monumental difference between the treatment of the mother and the father, this is specifically contingent on which becomes the residential or custodial parent after the birth of a child to unmarried parents. The custodial parent means much more than which parent the child resides with on a primary basis. It can determine how the parent and child are provided for in cases where the parent falls within the poverty guidelines regulated by the U.S. government. There are several federal and state programs that operate solely to provide people that are living in poverty basic necessities such as cash, food, healthcare, and housing. Statistically, mothers are the victors in custody disputes and are awarded sole custody. In fact, according to Timothy Grall of The United States Census Bureau (2013), the majority of custodial parents, (81.7 percent) were mothers and 18.3 percent were fathers. Couple this reality with the fact that, as of 2011, the poverty rate of custodial-mother families equated approximately 38.1 percent, the chances of these mothers applying for public assistance is almost inevitable. Given that mothers can receive public assistance from the government, this leaves the majority of low-income fathers to fend for themselves and carry the stigma of being labeled as a ‘deadbeat’ once mandated child support payments become delinquent. To begin the comparison of how differently poor moms are treated in contrast to poor dads the government’s cash assistance program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), must be examined. There are more than half of the United States and Washington DC that offers some type of relief to low-income people. Liz Schott and Clare Cho of the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities or CBPP (2011) explains that state general assistance programs provide a safety net of last resort for those who are very poor and do not qualify for other public assistance. Over the years, this form of financial relief has declined in both the amount of grant awarded and the number of states that offer some sort of program to relieve non-residential parents. According to Schott, et al. (2011), thirty states have General Assistance (GA) programs, which generally serve very poor individuals who:
Of those thirty states, the cash amounts that may be awarded to these individuals is extremely low. For example, in New Jersey, as of 2011, if an individual is determined to be employable and not disabled, the maximum benefit that be awarded was $140 per month. Whereas, a custodial parent will fare far greater, in cash benefits, in the state. A family of three can be awarded $424 a month in New Jersey and, effective October 1, 2008, the state will pass-through current support payments received for the month, (Michelle Vinson and Vicki Turetsky, (2009). Depending on the payment amount, the custodial parent may collect a considerable amount of money for doing nothing more than having and gaining custody of children. The poor noncustodial parent not only receives quite a bit less in financial assistant than the other parent, the time limits for receiving any benefits from the government differ considerably. Take for instance the state of Illinois and how it distributes any public assistance to its citizens. Illinois offers a $100 monthly general assistance benefit for unemployable individuals with no dependents. An unemployable individual is characterized as a person over 65, in a substance abuse center, or needed at home to care for a young child or disabled family mentor, (Schott, et al, 2011). It must be mentioned that only a handful of states, Illinois excluded, provide general assistance to individuals who are considered employable and have become incapacitated for whatever reason and cannot work. If an extremely poor person qualifies for GA, the time limits for receiving the hundred dollars are unlimited. This is, unless the person is homeless. According to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (2009), there are no time limits except for homeless individuals who have a six-month time limit. Since housing is a basic necessity, it is unfathomable to imagine that severely poor citizens who are sleeping on the street, should be restricted to such a limited amount of cash assistance. In contrast, a custodial parent, with two children, in the same state can receive a monthly TANF grant of $432 a month. To put this information into perspective, people that are low-income receive very different benefits based on having and living with children. A poor father, who may be homeless, stands to receive $600 in a six month span while a mother can receive up to $2,592 during the same six months. If a family is allowed to receive benefits for the entire five years allotted in Illinois for TANF benefits, the total amount of possible benefits may equal $25,920. It would definitely seem that it is not only profitable to have children, but it is even more profitable to gain sole custody of the children after the separation. Since studies prove that women are most often granted custody of the children, the mother is the only parent that can truly benefit financially in situations where the parents and children are living in poverty. Another source of public aid for the down-on-their-luck American citizen, is the receiving of food vouchers provided by the federal government. While many politicians and citizens alike exuberantly condemn the food stamp program, it cannot be disputed that food is necessary in order to sustain life. Even with this fact, the states severely limit who and for how long a person can receive this food subsidy. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, as one that offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. Unfortunately, the individuals are not always provided for in the way that families are often times provided for in this country. For example, time limits for SNAP benefits differ greatly between individuals and families. The CBPP (2014), reports that unemployed childless adults who do not have disabilities are limited to three months of SNAP benefit every three years in many areas of the country. The percentage of custodial mothers that were receiving SNAP benefits had increased from 23.5 percent in 2007 to 34.3 percent for custodial mothers in 2011, (Grall, 2013). This increase could be accredited to the slumping economy or the increase in unemployment across the country. If these factors are considered, the same economic hardship and unemployment problems will, more than likely, affect people without any dependents but SNAP benefits are not readily, or abundantly, available these individuals. According to the USDA (2015), on average a poor person with no qualifying dependents can expect to be awarded $125.35 per month in SNAP benefits. On the other hand, a custodial parent with three children can receive, on average, $511 a month and up. This while a custodial parent with seven dependents can be awarded up to $1,169 per month. A custodial parent can expect an increase of, at least, $146 in monthly SNAP benefits for each additional qualifying person, (CBPP, 2014). This means that on average, a low-income parent that has not been granted custody of his children may be awarded $375 in food stamp assistance during a limited three year span, while a mother of two can receive up to $18,396 in food subsidies within that same time period. To further compare the extreme differences in the assistance that custodial versus noncustodial parents receive in SNAP benefits, consider the singer mother with seven children. That household stands to receive a whopping $42,084 in SNAP benefits after three years. This is, of course, barring any sanctions or life changing circumstances that could increase or decrease the monthly benefit amount. This is further evidence that the profitability that motherhood holds when accompanied with the title of residential or custodial parent. It is important to note that several reports specify significant reductions to both amounts and time limits in GA and SNAP programs to childless individuals across the nation. Without these limited, but vital, programs to help the most vulnerable, the end result will be more people without dependents sinking deeper into poverty. Cash assistance and SNAP benefits are not the only awards that a custodial parent may receive from the government. Healthcare is, and has been for what seems like forever, a controversial topic in the US. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act under the President Barack Obama, more American citizens are obtaining medical insurance. However, low-income, or people with no income, are often left without any insurance. Even with the new reforms, the most vulnerable are often left with no means to purchase even the most inexpensive healthcare. Medicaid.gov reported that Medicaid provides health coverage to 11 million non-elderly, low-income parents, other caretaker relatives, pregnant women, and other non-disabled adults. As per usual, the non-disabled adults are not adequately provided for by the states that may offer some form of Medicaid. Even after the enactment of the ACA, there are 22 states that are refusing to implement or are challenging the federal mandate. For some, the elected officials may be acting on the best interest of the people, but for poor people without custody of their children, the stall tactics mean denial of yet another government funded program. According to Benefits.gov, an Alabama resident applying for Medicaid must be either:
- do not have minor children,
- are not disabled enough to qualify for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program,
- and are not disabled.
This leaves men without children in their custody to fend for himself, when coping with medical issues. The custodial parent, or mother-to-be, automatically qualifies for healthcare. The Medicaid program extends eligibility for women in the areas of family planning, cervical, and breast cancer screening programs. There are no programs offered to men between the ages of 19 and 65 that cover family planning education, testicular, or prostate cancer screenings. In fact, for an individual with no dependents and no disabilities applying for medical benefits, there is nothing available. The Medical Primer Alabama Medicaid Agency (2012), clearly states that Medicaid does not provide medical assistance for all poor persons. Even with the implementation of the ACA, which could essentially insure the dependent-free adults, Alabama is still restrictive about who it will medically insure. In order to receive health care services in Alabama, even very poor persons must be in one of the designated mandatory groups or in an optional group that the state has elected to cover, (Medical Premier Alabama Medicaid Agency, 2012). Even in matters that could determine life and death the poor noncustodial parents are overlooked and discarded while the residential parents reap all of the benefits of being a primary caregiver. Last, but certainly not least, the topic of shelter must be discussed. The manner in which housing programs for low-income people are largely based on who holds primary custody of the children. As aforementioned, Illinois limits its homeless adults to six months of general relief assistance and this, only, if all other qualifications are met. There are several low-income housing assistance programs offered by the government, but Section 8 and low-income apartments are two more common to families and certain individuals who are living in poverty. According to United States Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8, is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. The custodial parent automatically qualifies for this program due to having custody of a child and being a low-income head of household. The federal government determines how much money is to be paid which differs by state. The law at the New York City Housing Authority or NYCHA, the voucher payment standard (VPS) is the maximum monthly housing assistant payment for the family (before deducting the total tenant payment by the family). Currently in New York City, the VPS paid on behalf of a family in need of three bedroom living quarters is $1,999 a month, (NYCHA, 2015). But the payments do not end there for residential parents. The agency will pay utility allowances based on the source used for cooking, heating, and heating water. For example, a family residing in a dwelling with three bedrooms that uses oil heat to heat water will receive an allowance of $179 per month, (NYCHA, 2015). If a family uses electric heat to heat water and has a three bedroom house or apartment, the government will pay a voucher of almost $450 per month. Essentially, a single mother with custody of two children that qualifies for Section 8, can receive over $2,400 in housing benefits per month. Unfortunately, these same benefits do not apply to the low-income father. He may qualify for public housing but the dwelling will not be private nor will he receive any cash assistance for the duration of his residency. The housing accommodations with be in one of New York’s jails or prisons. In the state of New York, a parent that owes a child support debt can, and will, be charged with either 1st degree nonsupport or 2nd degree nonsupport as a repeat offender. Statistically, the people that are charged for nonsupport are poor. Elaine Sorenson, Liliana Sousa, and Simon Schaner of The Urban Institute conducted a study of nine states for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2007 which found that, 70% of the arrears were owed by obligors who had either no reported income or reported income of $10,000 a year or less. This comparison of how poor custodial parent (usually mothers) are treated versus how poor fathers are treated brings to the forefront how extremely biased and unfair the government can be toward noncustodial fathers who are in need of housing. Prison or a Section 8 voucher is a considerable difference in treatment towards poor people who happen to be parents. Public housing is another subsidy program offered to a specific group of low-income Americans. The public housing program was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Again, a program is supposed to assist poor people but, instead, is discriminating against individuals that cannot claim sole custody of their own children. One of these groups of individuals are homeless veterans. One of the biggest issues that homeless veterans report experiencing is owing child support debt. According to the Office of Child Support Enforcement or OCSE (2012), about half of the states have more than 100,000 veterans in their child support caseload. Due to the strict classification restrictions mandated by the federal government, public housing is not even available to people that have sacrificed life and limb for this country. Shannon Welton, of the San Diego County Department of Child Support Services, reported that 12% of the homeless population in the county are veterans and 20% of the male population. However, these dismal statistics have not forced the government to open the public housing program to these most vulnerable veterans. Again, public housing is only available to residential parents. HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs or the VA do offer homeless veterans assistance when finding a place to call home, but the veteran must meet strict criteria in order to qualify. One of the requirements that must be met in order to receive assistance is the need of a VA case manager from the veteran. The VA explains that the veteran who needs case management services must have a serious mental illness, substance and disorder history, or physical disability. In other words, individual veterans without serious ailments need not apply for housing assistance. The veteran housing program is one that will only cater to a disabled veteran and a veteran with a family. This leaves the single veteran with no dependents to claim, literally, out in the cold. There are statistics and numerous examples of how the government essentially rewards poor mothers with benefits as long as she retains full custody of the children. On the other hand, a poor father is deserted with no resources. After the recent recession accompanied with the slow economic recovery, employment opportunities are scattered and unobtainable for certain individuals. By simply giving birth, a woman living in poverty will be provided for by the government, while the father living in poverty is expected to pay child support and arrears when those payments are, often, unaffordable. A mother, retaining full custody of children will receive cash, food stamp vouchers, medical insurance and housing for, in some cases, an undetermined amount of time. The father receives no assistance and can have all licenses revoked, be labeled a ‘deadbeat’ rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, be arrested, and sentenced to prison. There is a clear double standard when it relates to parenthood. There needs to be equality when deciding how responsibility for parenthood is decided and, once decided, who will be awarded full custody of the children. We must, as a country, dramatically alter how we deal with low-income parents, regardless of gender. By implementing fair legislation, such as shared parenting and equal benefits if necessary, the children will benefit from being raised by both parents. Low-income women should not be guaranteed a profit when making the decision to become a parent. Even more importantly, people should not be denied basic necessities, such as food, housing, and health care based on gender and the ability to give birth to a child. If a person is low-income, they need assistance even more so, through difficult times regardless of their parental and custodial status. The government has vilified poor fathers while denying any of the same programs that are offered to poor mothers. This is not only unfair and biased, it is yet another, example of the violation of equal protections under the current child support laws. We, as a country, must strive to right the wrong that has been executed upon poor fathers by way of the unconstitutional child support system. By implementing the reform of the child support system under Former President Clinton, we, as a country, have made our vulnerable male citizens second class citizens. Since abolishment of the child support system is likely impossible, significant reform is the only option left for the U.S. to rectify the injustice that has been brought against poor fathers. References: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2014, September 29). A quick guide to SNAP eligibility and benefits — Center on budget and policy priorities. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1269 Grall, T. (2013). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2011 (60-246). Retrieved from United States Census Bureau website: https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p60-246.pdf Medical Primer Alabama Medicaid Agency. (2012, February 2). The medicaid Eligibility Primer | Alabama medicaid agency. Retrieved from http://www.medicaid.alabama.gov/documents/2.0_Newsroom/2.1_About_Medicaid/2.1_Medicaid_Primer_10-12-12.pdf New York City Housing Authority. (2015). Voucher payment standards - New york city housing authority. Retrieved from http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycha/html/section8/voucher_payment.shtml Office of Child Support Enforcement, & Administration for Children & Families. (2011). The story behind the numbers (1). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/veterans_in_the_caseload.pdf Schott, L., & Cho, C. (2011, December 19). General assistance programs: Safety net weakening despite increased need — Center on budget and policy priorities. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3603 Sorenson, E., Sousa, L., Schaner, S., & The Urban Institute. (2007). Assessing child support arrears in nine large states and the nation: Main page (233-02-0092). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/assessing-CS-debt/ U,S, Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Housing choice voucher program section 8. Retrieved from http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). HUD-VASH eligibility criteria - Homeless veterans. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://www.va.gov/homeless/hud-vash_eligibility.asp United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) | Food and nutrition service. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap United States Department of Agriculture. (2015, April 10). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) | Average monthly benefit per person. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/pd/18SNAPavg$PP.pdf Vinson, M., & Turetsky, V. (2009, June 12). State child support pass-through policies. Retrieved from http://www.clasp.org/docs/PassThroughFinal061209.pdf Washington State Institute of Public Policy. (2009). General assistance programs for unemployable adults (09-12-4101). Retrieved from The Washington State Legislature website: http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/ReportFile/1061/Wsipp_General-Assistance-Programs-for-Unemployable-Adults_Full-Report.pdf
- have a disability
- have a family member in your household with a disability,
- be responsible for children under 19 years of age,
- or, be 65 years of age or older.
South Dakota is one of the most recent states to embrace the thought of enacting legislation in support of shared parenting in the United States. Shared parenting, by definition, is a collaborative arrangement in child custody or divorce determinations in which both parents have the right and responsibility of being actively involved in the raising of a child(ren), (Wikipedia). There have been numerous studies that report the benefits that children receive when raised by two parents while residing in single-parent homes. The laws governing joint custody and shared parenting are similar to child support guidelines in that they are written and regulated by state officials. These policies become complicated when deciding custody and visitation schedules and calculating child support payments that benefit the parents, and most importantly, the children. A study conducted by Linda Neilson of the Stanford Custody Project (2014), revealed that 51 out of 1406 children chosen randomly made better grades, were less depressed, and were more, well-adjusted behaviorally than the 355 adolescents who lived primarily with their mother. With this information, being not only available, but relevant in proving that children are overall more emotionally stable, there is no reason that a strong shared-parenting plan is not a mandate in all child support and custody decisions.
One could deduce that custody and child support are equally important which would mean that all decisions involving both should be made simultaneously. That is not true in the US. Every state has specific guidelines written in its policies that distinctly identify that child support and custody topics are two separate issues. For example, in Ohio, the law is very clear that child support and visitation are not related. According to Brian D. Watts (2007), the duty to pay support is separate and distinct from the right to parenting time with a child. While it is true that both parents are financially responsible for their children, the expenses accrued by noncustodial parents during visitation and/or overnight stays, are often ignored when it pertains to child support and visitation. Even though South Dakota has updated its legislation, researchers have not recognized one state that has outstanding shared parenting policies in place nor has any serious legislation been considered to decrease or eliminate child support completely.
Almost all states have some type of shared parenting plan that allow adjustments to child support payments based on time spent with the children. There are eighteen states that offer some adjustments to child support amounts based on the time the nonresidential parent spends with his or her child. According to the National Conference of State Legislation or NCSL, in Alaska, the government offers a reduction based on a cross-credit formula of a 1.5 multiplier based on a 30% shared parenting time threshold. The cross-credit formula is the most common used method and this formula can be greatly beneficial to the noncustodial parent. Jo M. Beld and Len Biernat explained in the Family Law Quarterly (2003), that states apply a multiplier, usually 1.5 to the base support order before making an adjustment based on additional visitation to offset fixed costs of the residence when the child is not home. The 1.5 approach adjusts for costs expended by the noncustodial parent while recognizing the costs associated with maintaining two households. By using this method, the best interest of the child truly be appreciated. The parents are both able to maintain adequate and comfortable households wherever the child has a ‘sleepover’ and the livelihood of the noncustodial parent is not threatened by paying child support/fixed costs at the custodial parent. Additionally, it has been proven that as the actual amount of overnight time they ( the child and the parent) spent together during adolescence increased from 1% to 50%, the young adults’ positive ratings of their relationships with their fathers also increased, (Neilson, 2014). This means that the government, both federal and state, should strongly consider implanting stronger and more meaningful shared parenting plans. This needs to be done while applying reductions to child support payments so that the children are financially and emotionally provided for by both parents.
A visitation credit may be applied in some cases in states that recognize the per diem method when deviating from the custody and child support orders. This method is utilized and supported in Missouri along with the per diem shared parenting time formula. The visitation credit is a percentage of the base child support amount that does not include any of the additional expenses, (Matt Allen, 2011). It only makes sense that parents should receive reductions in child support when adequate time is spent with their children. The more time a child suspends, with the exclusion of fixed costs like rent, the more money the parent could spend directly on the child. With the per diem method, a parent is credited with an obligation for the number of days the child spends with the parent, (David M. Betson). By using this method, the noncustodial parent receives some type of financial relief while actively participating in the raising of his or her child. When children are involved in a co-parenting situation, they are less likely to experience some of the issues that children raised in single-family homes tend to endure. The Neilson Analysis found that when 83 children (35 shared parented and 58 sole residences) were tested, the shared children were better adjusted emotionally, (Neilson, 2014). These findings should be included when and if legislation is introduced to promote nationwide shared parenting plans. These positive outcomes showing children who benefit emotionally should be worth more than a parent that benefits financially from receiving child support payments from the noncustodial parent. It is, however, detrimental that both parents spend adequate time with their children and have the financial ability to provide basic needs for both themselves and their children.
The threshold of time is important when figuring deductions relating to the amount of time parents spend with their children. According to Patricia R Brown and Tonya Brito of the Institute for Research and Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2007), the threshold identified the point along the continuum of time-share above which an adjustment of child support should be made in order to take in account the direct costs of caring for the child incurred by the lesser-time parent. Deductions are applied based on when the threshold is met and these vary between states. Some states, like Kentucky and Mississippi do not have such thresholds, but the majority of states offer thresholds ranging from 10% to 40%. Missouri, on the other hand, does offer threshold deductions. The ‘Show Me’ State is on the low-end reporting a 10% threshold, but this percentage is subject to increase in certain situations. Missouri guidelines allows for a deviation when children spend ‘substantially’ equal time with both parents, (NCSL). The benefit of a possible deviation, coupled with the fact that Missouri is one of 24 states that requires a “friendly parent” factor when deciding parenting plans, only earns an average grade when it comes to litigating child custody issues.
The “Friendly Parent” factor, as defined by The National Parents Organization (2007), means that states have language in a custody statute that recognizes and rewards a parents’ willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a closer and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child. It is not clear why every state does not require courts to implement a friendly parent factory when deciding shared parenting plans. This rule should be on the forefront in all custody cases, especially since children are more stable when being raised by both parents, even in separate homes. Another method that states utilize when determining deductions to child support obligations based on shared parenting time is the modified Betson approach. This method is less common, as only New Jersey and Arizona, practice this formula when determining parenting plans. The Betson Method, based on Arizona guidelines, can be used after it has been determined that there are no additional costs accrued when choosing a shared parenting plan instead of using the joint custody option. According to David M, Betson, a credit is computed based upon the number of overnights spent with the parent with the obligation. Arizona does not consider a shared parenting threshold when computing the child support obligation in reference to a percentage of time spent with the noncustodial parent.
Instead, the size of the credit is the product of the obligation times the percentage found in the look up tables based on overnights spent, (Betson). The modified Betson would be an ideal solution in the eyes of most because the best interest of the child and the parents are being met and possibly exceeded. The child will spend more time with the nonresidential parent while the parent is able to adequately provide during the time the child in his or her custody. Too often, parents are expected to not only provide child support, but maintain a standard of living for themselves and another family in cases where the parent remarries. The days of reducing a parent to nothing in order to satisfy unrealistic child support debt should quickly become a thing of the past. By sharing parental responsibilities (excluding money), the child(ren) has the chance to experience better emotional and physical outcomes.
Surprisingly, there are several arguments in support of denying shared parenting even when there is no reports of violence which would, and should, prevent both parents from raising their child(ren). One argument is that shared parenting leads to different inconsistencies for the child. Opponents of shared parenting argue that disciplinary consistency is almost impossible when a child is divided between two households. Individuals have the right to raise and discipline their children as they feel appropriate as long as there are no laws are being broken. This should apply to all parents, regardless of whether the child is being raised in one or two households. It is a personal decision on how to raise children. One parent has no right to tell another how to discipline or when to discipline their child. Equal protections enter into the arena as the question should be asked, are married parents forced to disclose and negotiate their parenting styles in order to appease another? Short of behaving in an illegal manner, the answer is no. Another argument against shared parenting are the issues that may arise when parents choose to remarry. According to Families.com, parents who manage to peacefully co-parent before, are taken aback completely when the other parent remarries. This, of course should have no impact on the parent and child relationship. Nor should it prohibit the child from being raised by both parents. The reality is that many parents remarry and if the residential parent can remarry and move a new adult person into the household without recourse or judgment, the nonresidential parent should enjoy that same opportunity. Research has shown that shared parenting is more likely to decrease the negative impact of high ongoing conflict than sole residence parenting plans, (Neilson, 2014).
The arguments against shared parenting will continue to grow as more states embrace this reality of changing separated family dynamics. If there are no signs and proof of abuse, there should be no restrictions place on parents that choose a shared parenting plan no matter who initiated the action. The government bashes the American ‘fatherless’ society, while perpetuating the rise of single parent homes. Parents should have child support payments reduced based on the amount of time and money he or she spends with the child(ren), Unfortunately, too many parents rely on child support payments as a source of income. Because of this fact, any reduction in the support amount may force residential parents to seek gainful employment. This is another reason that naysayers to shared parenting plans refuse to adopt this reinvented option of co-parenting. Noncustodial parents often beg to spend time and help raise their children, however, are often labeled as a deadbeat if they happen to be unemployed and unable to pay child support debt. It has been overstated that children need both parents.
Studies and research have proven that being raised by both parents is in a child’s best interest and yet shared parenting plans are not mandated across the country. Less than 25 states currently require ‘friendly parent’ factors be included in their statutes. The National Parents Organization recently conducted a study to grade the state on their shared parenting plans. There were no states that scored an A. The other states earned grades ranging from a B in states like Arizona and Minnesota to an F which was received by New York and Rhode Island. The family courts, child support enforcement, and parents relying of children as paychecks, will continue to oppose any legislation that favors strong parenting plans that ultimately favor the noncustodial parents and the child. There is too much money involved in executing theses biased systems. Until we force the government to mandate effective shared parenting plans and child support reform legislation, the fatherless generation will linger and children will be deprived of being raised by both parents.
Allen, M. (2011, April 1). What is a visitation credit? - St. Louis divorce support | Examiner.com. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/what-is-a-visitation-credit
Beld, J. M., & Biernat, L. (2003). Federal intent for state child support guidelines: Income shares, cost shares, and the realities of shared parenting. Family Law Quarterly, 37(165). Retrieved from www.alacourt.gov/pdfppt/FEDERAL_INTENT.pdf
Betson, D. M. (n.d.). Work product of Indiana judicial council review for support guidelines- Shared parenting, visitation and child support. Retrieved from http://www3.nd.edu/~dbetson/research/documents/SharedParentingFinal.pdf
Brown, P. R., & Brito, T. (2007). Characteristics of shared-placement child support formulas in the fifty states. Retrieved from Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support website: http://www.irp.wisc.edu/research/childsup/cspolicy/pdfs/Brown_Brito_Task11.pdf
Families.com. (n.d.). The Case Against Joint Physical Custody Parents Families.com. Retrieved from http://www.families.com/blog/the-case-against-joint-physical-custody
National Conference of State Legislatures. (n.d.). States' treatment of shared parenting time. Retrieved from www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/states-treatment-of-shared-parenting-time.aspx
National Parents Organization. (2014, November 10). 2014 shared parenting reporting card a new look at child welfare a state-by-state ranking. Retrieved from https://nationalparentsorganization.org/docs/2014_Shared_Parenting_Report_Card%2011-10-2014.pdf
Nielson, L. (2014). Shared physical custody: Summary of 40 studies on outcomes for children. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 55, 614-636. Retrieved from DOI: 10.1080/10502556.2014.965578
Watts, B. D. (n.d.). Child custody and parenting. Retrieved from http://www.brianwattslaw.com/Family/childcustody.html
Wikipedia. (2014, November 5). Shared parenting - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_parenting