The story about the Houston father is one that raises many questions about the laws and the judges that govern the child support system. In my strong opinion, the child support system is outdated, unfair, and arguably, unconstitutional. This case reiterated my feeling and I will explain my reasoning to any opponents to my argument. First, child support was reformed and implemented during the introduction of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) of 1996. Except for few laws, such as the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2008, there has been little change to the child support system and its regulations. In order for the system to be effective, it must change to suit the demands of an ever changing family dynamic.
Previously, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients were required to assign all (present and future) child support payments over to the state. The DRA limits the assignment of support rights to the state to the amount of support that accrues during the period when a family receives assistance, not to exceed the cumulative amount of reimbursed assistance (North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 2014). Undoubtedly, this did little to require states to pay all of the support that was collected to the families. In fact, 29 states currently fail to pass-through, or pay child support collected to its families receiving TANF benefits. Many contend that due to the pass-through policies, child poverty in American has steadily increased over the past decade. This point alone shows how outdated the system continues to be in assisting families climb out of poverty.
Secondly, incarcerating any citizen because of owing a debt is against federal law. According to the Activist Post (2013), America chose to abolish her debtors’ prisons a full 36 years before England-first in New York in 1831, and then by 1833 in most of America had followed. So why, over 150 years later, should a father in Houston be jailed for child support debt even after he paid the support? The system justifies jailing parents by calling the charge one of contempt of court. However, the debt is the ultimate reason behind the incarceration, so essentially debtors' prisons have returned to our country. Supporters of the lock up and pay to be set free policy should strongly consider the possibility of being jailed for other debt. That should not be too difficult to imagine since it is happening all over the country right now.
Fortunately, states such as Ohio, are taking action against such draconian laws. The spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio summarized debtors’ prisons by stating that they are not only unconstitutional, they are cruel albatross that traps low-income people in a never-ending cycle of poverty, debt, and incarceration, (Huffington Post, 2014). Based on the federal law, incarceration for debt is unconstitutional and more states should follow the Ohio State Supreme Court and ban courts around the country from ordering incarceration as a punishment for destitution. According to the Huffington Post (2014), Ohio's highest court took steps to make sure no one sentenced in state cases gets put behind bars simply because they are too poor.
Lastly, the limited rights that most men have in the choice of becoming fathers in the United States, is simply unfair. Women have nearly all the control pertaining to reproductive and child bearing rights. Currently, if a woman decides to bring to term a child that the man who impregnated her does not want to have, he can be forced to pay for his ‘crime” for years to come through child support laws, (Jarron Bowman, 2014). Men that do not have a choice in becoming a parent should not be subject to punishments by the governments. That does not support equal protections under the law and are, therefore, seemingly unconstitutional to men.
The case in Houston reiterated my feelings of disdain for the child support system. There are so many components that alienate parents from those protections guaranteed under the U.S. constitution. We cannot excuse violations to certain parts of the constitutions but allow other violations just because they are politically correct. As long as child support remains outdated, unfair, and unconstitutional, more fathers like Clifford Hall will be victims to this system. It is time to fight for the rights for all citizens, especially the ones who happen to be parents trapped in the child support system.
Bowman, J. (2014, February 2). Social Disorder: Expanding Men's Reproductive Rights - The Michigan Daily. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www.michigandaily.com/blog/podium/social-disorder-expanding-mens-reproductive-rights
Diamond, M. (2011, December 13). The Return Of Debtor's Prisons: Thousands Of Americans Jailed For Not Paying Their Bills | ThinkProgress. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/12/13/388303/the-return-of-debtors-prisons-thousands-of-americans-jailed-for-not-paying-their-bills
Edwards, M. (2013, December 26). Activist Post: The Debtors Prison System Resurrected From The Grave. Retrieved from http://www.activistpost.com/2010/06/our-future-in-chains-for-profit-debtors.html
Huffington Post (2014, February 2). 'Debtors' Prisons' Struck Down By Ohio Supreme Court. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/05/debtors-prisons-ohio_n_4732596.html
Lane, S. (n.d.). The New Bill Collector Tactic: Jail Time | Nolo.com. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/the-new-bill-collector-tactic-jail-time.html
National Conference of State Legislator (2014, January). Criminal Nonsupport and Child Support. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/criminal-nonsupport-and-child-support.aspx
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.). Child Support Services DISTRIBUTION/DISBURSEMENT. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/cse/man/CSEcN.htm#P17_568
Office of Child Support Enforcement (1996, November 1). The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 | Office of Child Support Enforcement | Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/the-personal-responsibility-and-work-opportunity-reconcilliation-act