I just came across a distressing CNN report about fathers trapped in debt for non-payment of child support. At first, it sounds there is nothing new here that we have not covered in this blog. In New York State, if you can afford a divorce in Supreme Court, you buy your way into sharing the life of your children. If however you have the bad fortune of being poor, you have to end up in family court. There, being a father entails one and only one duty: paying child support. Having a role in the life of your children is just an option , which depends on the good grace of the judge, your ex or both.
The CNN Vega’s piece mentions a new aberration in New York State family justice. Some fathers, who for whatever reasons- unemployment or low wages (family court judges don’t seem to be aware of the stagnation of real median wages over the last two decades) cannot meet child support obligations, and end up behind bars. We are not talking about the relatively mild detention conditions of a county jail here. Fathers are graciously housed in Rikers Island. They obviously don’t make a dime while incarcerated and their child support debt keep mounting, which dramatically increases their chance to never being able to expunge it and to return to prison after they are set free. President Obama tried to stop this absurdity in 2010 by passing a federal law that would reclassify incarceration as involuntary unemployment -instead of voluntary- and stop child support debt from accruing.
Hillary Clinton, who as a Senator of New York has never left a finger to reform the aberrant family laws of the State, is now attacking discrimination against men in child custody as unconstitutional. Dear Hillary, it took you a while. But fathers all over the country are waiting for some real meat,not just words.