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

I just came across a distressing CNN report about fathers trapped in debt for non-payment naplesnews.comof 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.

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Have you ever seen fathers and fathers’ rights making top stories on TV? In the UK, sure; in France, from time to time. In the US, never. And I have been following the topic for a while.

Well, it happened in North Carolina on January 19 2016.  It looks like it all has to do with a blog called NC-Fathers, which is followed in the state. In this WLOS ABC 13 segment, Shayne Thompson, a father from North Carolina, talks about reforms that a growing group of fathers from there want to see happening in  North Carolina family laws and family courts. He hits the right cords: shared parenting, because divorced fathers want to be a part of the lives of their children beyond the weekend; make parental alienation, that is nothing but domestic violence, a crime.

http://www.wlos.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/NC-Fathers-Press-for-Equal-Custody-of-Children-251304.shtml#.VqBdVVMrKu4

These North Carolina fathers are good news for father rights at the onset of this new year.

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From the Manhattan Bridge, August 2015

From the Manhattan Bridge, August 2015

A long time ago, the Greeks invented tragedy. Tragedy is about irreconcilable positions and impossible goals. Often in the mix there are delusional aspirations, because folks fail to assess their predicament.

Talking about crazy aspirations, take that one: Being “#1 Dad”, as a fellow painted on the roof of his building (see photo), when the divorced ones can barely be dads. When I saw it, I thought of a comment of a reader of this blog. The man had an accident, tried to get disability, lost his job, while his daughter was more than 18. In New York State however, child support is owed until the child is 21, and more…  it is actually owed after the child is 21. Our man still keeps paying back support while his daughter is 24.

Why should he? Simply because for New York State, child support obligations is a gender-based financial yoke, whereby men are non-custodial payers bound to pay support to ex until the child is 21, irrespective of any need.

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There is apparently in this country a building consensus on reforming the criminal justice system.

Photograph Gilles Clarke, Getty Images

Photograph Gilles Clarke, Getty Images

Perhaps it started with the Milwaukee Experiment, which Jeffrey Toobin related in a May 11 article in the New Yorker.  John Chisholm, the District Attorney in Milwaukee County, singlehandedly decided to correct the imbalance of the American justice system which sends a disproportionate amount of young Afro-American people for minor drug offenses in prisons.  Chisholm started to ask that prosecutors’ success be measured by their performance in reducing prison’s population, and not the opposite.

In New York State, the “Raise the Age” movement has focused on changing the law that sends juvenile offenders in jail at 16. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, has been advocating for five years to raise the criminal age in New York to 18.  Lippman was heard by Governor Cuomo, who is now trying to gather support for his bill to raise the criminal age.

Interestingly enough, as the readers of this blog well know, a 16 year old is a criminal in New York State but not exactly an adult before 21, since non-custodial parents have to pay child support until their offspring reaches this age. Consistency would require raising the criminal age to 21, or freeing non-custodial parents from child support obligations when their children are 18.

This brings me to my next point. A very interesting article in the April 20 New York Times describes how divorced fathers -mostly in North Carolina and Georgia- go in and out of jail for child support debt, are denied jobs for that reason, and are drawn to poverty for life. The title tells it all: “Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Jobs. Repeat.”

It is definitely a good thing to empty jails of young people, provided one does not keep filling them with their fathers, thanks to unfair child support laws. I can’t wait to hear Governor Cuomo’s thoughts or Hillary Clinton’s on that one.

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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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