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Archive for the ‘Child Support and Child Support Laws’ Category

There is one principle I have been sticking to since this blog started: I do not publish ads disguised as

Sheri Atwood (Photo Vicki Thompson)

Sheri Atwood (Photo Vicki Thompson)

“I love your blog” comment for anybody, even from self-declared lawyers specialized in fathers’ rights. About a week ago, I received a comment from (perhaps) a parent praising SupportPay.com. I am going to publish this comment, for once. I might do even worse, but I’ll take the risk: discuss SupportPay here, because it is a topic that, I believe, deserves comments.

SupportPay is an online platform developed by Ittavi.Inc, which is incorporated in the great State of Delaware, although its headquarters are in Santa Clara, CA. According to founders Sheri Atwood and Lorena Chiu, SupportPay aims at softening tensions between divorced parents. Between the latter, communication sucks. It does, because it revolves around money. If communication about money is made easier -here comes SupportPay, with which you upload any receipt as proof of your expenses toward what you paid for your child- tension will ease, and children will be spared the shouting match that accompanies the bringing of them from one parent to the other.

I like technology like the next guy, but I do not think it will save the world. And I am also not totally sure that SupportPay founders have a clear idea of what their customer’s base is. Who pays child support? Mostly fathers. How do they pay it? Often, the State takes care of payments for them, through garnishment of their wages, like in my case. What are the predicament of fathers? They don’t see their kids, and making communication about money smoother won’t help see them more. Child support payments, which in most states are based on the sole non-custodial father’s income, amount to absurd percentage of their income. The problem of most fathers is not to keep track of their expenses for their kids; It is to keep up with them.

All of this to give a clearer idea of who SupportPay might be for: some of the 1%, Silicon Valley fathers who are not affected by the daunting demand of US family laws on the rest of us, and may find comfort in seeing through their expenses thanks to SupportPay. God bless them. Markets will always find answers, adequate or not, to their needs. I for one, will post another blog about SupportPay if it keeps one father from going to jail for missing chid support payments.

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Fathers in Jail (Photo Carmine Galasso)

Fathers in Jail in NJ (Photo Carmine Galasso)

On paper, New Jersey is far from having the worst child support laws in the US. Both parents’ income are used to determine the financial obligations of each, unlike in New York State, where child support is a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income, irrespective of the custodial’s one. Yet stories of  New Jersey fathers in jail for default of child support payments pulls your hair up out of horror: fathers are rotting in jail with no end of their ordeal in sight. There is obviously something wrong with the way the law is enforced, and Governor Chris Christie seems quite oblivious of it when he travels to England in search of international exposure.

What goes wrong for fathers in the Garden State?  Colleen Diskin, in a July 26 2014 posting in New Jersey.com, locates the origin of this mess in New Gingrich’s cracking on “welfare queens” and “deadbeat dads.” He forgets to mention that Bill Clinton, with the dismantling of welfare as we knew it, is the one who cast the first stones of Gingrich’s reactionary project of returning to a pre-New Deal conception of the role of the state. What is this vision about? The poor are poor because they did not seize the plentiful opportunities available to him; if they are poor, it is because they are either trying to cheat the system, like deadbeat dads (then we can spare the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars), and they are therefore losers. In the later case, the state might condescend to help him, for a -short- while.  Rogue judges, such as judge Bonnie Mizdol in Bergen County family court, whose understanding of the obligations and responsibilities of parents squares with nineteenth century England at the time the Poor Laws, grants a once-a-week drug addiction counseling session to parents who cannot meet their financial obligations.

The problem with most states  implementing this grand vision is that they don’t have a shinning justice system, because they are, like the great state of New Jersey, cheap and/or lazy.  Here, access to food stamps or housing is conditioned upon granting the right to the county to sue for child support money, which goes to repay for these services; Technically, this is a transfer of income to poor custodial parents (mostly women) from non-custodial parents, who cannot afford it and end up in jail;  That’s a great victory for the state, which is in the clear, and can point to easy scape goats: deadbeat dads trying to escape their parental responsibilities.

As Krugman puts it today, “nobody understands debt,” or nobody understands that debt entails two parties, the debtor and the creditor, whose claim may be totally unreasonable; when you have a debtor who owes more than six figures in back child support, it may mean that 1/(dad’s) income) may have changed over the years (after all, the Great Recession reminded as that capitalism is a very unstable system, and that people lose jobs) and 2/ mum’s expectations as to what child support is to pay for has nothing to do with a child’s real needs, but what mum thinks they are.

The State of New Jersey has to face it: such debt is never going to be repaid, and owed not to. Putting dads in jail won’t change it.

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Michael Stratton (Photo Edwin Torres, NYT)

Michael Stratton (Photo Edwin Torres, NYT)

Today I found the December 16 issue of the New York Times, which at first, I did not remember why I kept. Now it is clear. There was an Eleanor Stanford’s piece that would perfectly fit in the depressing New York State of the Division of Child Support Enforcement website, to cheer up non-custodial fathers searching what is going to be their ordeal in New York State.

Eleanor Stanford is telling us that yes, there are ultimately good things coming out of a long period of unaffordable child support payments. It’s about a man, Michael Stratton, from Queens. One understands the man may have had glamorous times in the movie as an extra and as a stunt driver. Comes a divorce and everything is turned upside down. Piling child support arrears keep him at a disadvantage to get good jobs, and suspension of his driver license did not help either. I will spare you the financial ordeal of the poor fellow and get to Stanford’s conclusion: Michael Stratton still has a relationship with his daughter in college (how beautiful) and the whole thing has taught him a lesson in personal finance. The benevolent New York State lawmakers must have done something right after all.

Needless to say, there is no question asked on why the non-custodial father pays what he has to, irrespective of the income of his ex-spouse and his professional situation, and for so long (New York State is one of the few states, along with Indiana and the District of Columbia, where fathers have to pay child support until their kids are 21).

One cannot emphasize enough the importance of the role of journalists. When they fail to question the status quo, they help perpetrate it.

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Photo ABC News

Halle Berry (Photo ABC News)

Fact: Family courts bleed fathers to death as they force them to pay absurd percentages of their gross income for child support; if you have any doubt about it, just read the recent comments on this blog.

Fact: On May 30 of this year, the settlement between actress Halle Berry and her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry was approved by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gordon. Berry will pay $16,000 a month in child support, or $192,000 a year to Aubry for their six-year old daughter. Let see: that’s almost enough to pay – each year !- the tuition for a  four-year degree in the most expensive U.S. universities.

Some will see in this agreement a great victory for justice on the grounds that a woman – and a famous one- has to pay child support like the rest of us.  I  for one would not agree. I see a saddening consistency between the Berry-Aubry’s settlement and traditional child support policy for the commoners. The commoners, in their vast majority, are poor, and the poor being poor,are not supposed, according to family courts, to figure out how to make their kids happy.  That’s why family courts are there for: Tell  the poor chap what to do and squeeze the last dime out of him. On the other hand, family courts have no problem with rich folks, provided a privileged kid remains a privileged kid. Thank  God, Halle Berry’s daughter will.  These two parallel facets of paternalistic child support’s policy are always carried out in the name of the best interest of the child.

Fact: There is a Piketty mania going on in this country, but obviously family courts have not heard about it. This Piketty mania spreads Capitalfrom Thomas Piketty’s last book , Capital in the Twenty- First Century, which talks about a wealth inequality fever particularly acute in America. Nobody is saying that family courts are in the business of correcting for wealth inequalities. At  least, they ought not help reproduce them, while stamping the seal of justice on absurd child support payments that secure a kid the standards of living he’s born with.

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Readers of this blog are right. There is some good stuff in bill A 6457, sponsored by Assemblyman Brian M Kolb. The bill was introduced on

Louise

Louise

April 1 to the New York State Assembly. I am not exactly done reading the some thirty pages of the bill, but there are things I can live with, especially as far as parenting is concerned.

The bill is an amendment to the infamous-to-fathers New York State domestic relation laws. It aims at establishing the presumption of shared parenting.  I could not help but smile at the carefully crafted reasons for such a presumption one reads in the legislative findings and intents (Section 1 of the bill) : “Shared parenting, where both parents share as equally as possible in the legal responsibility, living experience, and physical care of the child has been found to be in the child’s best interest in […] certain circumstances.” It seems the sponsors have some (not bullet proof tough) evidence of the obvious. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the sponsors of the bill: they are asking their colleagues to reform female-biased New York State family laws without stating these laws are a dismal failure, for they would vex the susceptibilities of those who supported and keep support them. Tough job.

How is shared parenting to be established upon divorce in the bill? Parents are to agree on a “parenting plan” during mediation (p.3) which would resolve contentious issues such as transportation from one parent to the other. Both parents are to have “parenting time,” and not only mommy (who usually gets sole custody), with dad (the non-custodial parent) doomed to get “visitations.”

For these changes not to be only semantic, and fathers’ right to be a parent of their children  to be guaranteed by law, shared parenting has to be the rule, not an option hanging on the good will of the other party. That’s where there is a puzzling glitch: the amendment 240e to the domestic relation act states that if one party is seeking shared parenting and the other sole custody, “both parties shall bear the burden of the proof that their requested arrangement is in the best interest of the child.” That’s a weak side in the bill: for shared parenting to ever happen, it should be the only responsibility of the party who does not want it to contest it, and with serious reasons for doing so.  The bill might well talk about “immediate sanctions” for interfering and withholding “parenting time” (p.24), it should better prevent one parent from tampering with the other’s party’s “parenting time” right from the start.

I know what I am talking about: “my parenting time” is long gone, and ex is now tampering with any communication from me and my family with my girls. The law is always going to be several steps behind the malicious creativity of alienating parents.

If I may dare the comparison, bill  A 6457 sounds like Obamacare, (which fortunately so is now the law of the land ): it ain’t no public option, but is much better than what was before. Bill A 6457 is worth supporting and be made better.

To be continued…

 

 

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I came across TyQan Brow’s story, which was on the news some ten days ago.  A new pearl in the nauseating list of encroachments of

Scottish Monster (Katie McPherson)

Scottish Monster (Katie McPherson)

fathers’ rights by family courts.

TyQan is the father of an eponym son he conceived with Jonetta Woods.  In February 2013, Jonetta tragically lost three of her four children in a fire.  The story gets suddenly very complicated, thanks to erratic Kalamazoo (Michigan)  family court decisions. For a while, TyQan is granted custody of Drayanna, the daughter Jonetta had with another man and escaped the fire, and his soon-to-be-born son.  But not so fast: TyQan Junior is born in March 14, but his father TyQan does not even have a chance to bring his baby home, as  he has to face an accusation of child abuse and neglect:   A social worker, who had visited TyQan before the baby’s birth and had found no crib at home, jumped to the conclusion that he was not prepared for parenthood. Eventually TyQan is granted temporary custody of his son by Kalamazoo family court, after he showed he had all that was needed to take care of his son, and all the desire to do so. Yet,TyQan is a father on “probation.”  I could not  keep myself from thinking: what will he need to prove to the court to be granted permanent custody of his child?  How filled, and with what food, his fridge will have to be? How much money will need to be on his savings account?

My first reading of TyQuan’s  tangle with family court was that if the family court’s  crowd  despises the Patriarch figure, the man that provides, takes charge, and imposes his will on women and children, there is one type of men it hates even more: the poor. In the times we live in, low-income men don’t make it to the middle class, and their status as breadwinners is always fragile. If they get divorced, they don’t not remain breadwinners very long, as family courts turn them into deadbeat dads with inflexible child support payments. Eduardo Porter is right when he suggests to policymakers, in a New Times article from March 5 2014,  to try support instead of punishment for low- income fathers (and families).

However, a look  at family laws outside the US shows that  punishment by family courts also applies to low-income non custodial fathers in countries where the social safety net is better than in the US, in Ireland for instance. Dan Buckley from the Irish Examiner writes that judges are breaching human rights of fathers, keeping them from seeing their children and forcing them into poverty. The targets of family courts there are fathers who can just make it with state benefits. Too often, judges tend to order an excessive amount of child support (maintenance in Ireland) relative to income; the same judges will curtail visitations or send fathers to jail if child support is unpaid.

There is something in out- of- wedlock fathers with kids which deeply bothers our societies; perhaps, the fact that they could be totally autonomous with kids,  that they could not need the help from women to educate their children.

I will celebrate when the first custodial or  non- custodial father will be elected in office – any office-  anywhere.

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Rep. Joe Kleefisch (photo Wisconsin State Journal)

Rep. Joe Kleefisch (photo Wisconsin State Journal)

A month ago, I read about Assembly Bill 540, which Joel Kleefisch, Republican Representative of Oconomowoc, was planning on introducing to the Wisconsin State Assembly. I thought it was incomplete, but some ideas were not to be dismissed entirely: capping child support payments to $150,000 in yearly income, which the bill proposed, was not unreasonable to me.  As much as I am for the top 10% to pay their fair share of taxes, I don’t see why child support payments ought to guarantee a 10% life style to an ex-spouse who happened to have married into the 10%. The bill was also aiming at guaranteeing “an equalized placement of children into both families.” That resonated nicely to me; we non-custodial fathers too often are granted pitiful visitations of our children.

However the fathers’ rights rhetoric of bill 540 proved pure smoke screen. In fact, Kleefisch had one father in mind when he was writing the bill, his multimillionaire friend, Michael Eisenga, who is also a contributor to his campaign and to that of his wife, who is Lieutenant Governor of the State of Wisconsin. Even better, Eisenga, unhappy with his child support obligations, was holding Kleefisch’s pen. On January 15, the bill was withdrawn from committee hearing.

The saddest thing in this story is that there is a bunch of fathers besides Eisenga who really needed a break. Let’s be fair with Wisconsin Child Support guidelines: They are immensely more sophisticated than New York State’s.  Income subject to child support is determined as an arbitrary percentage of each parent’s gross income (wrong), yet a component of child support obligations (day care for instance) is adjusted for the time the child spends with each parent (right), and income disparity is stated to factor in the computation of child support obligations. Wisconsin Child Support guidelines also describe sources of income subject to child support payments, which include social security disability benefits and unemployment benefits. The folks that live off such income often need to have their child support obligations revised downwards or be exempted from child support obligations altogether. Obviously Kleefisch and his pal Eisenga were not thinking about them.

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