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Parental Rights – Involuntary Divorce and Child Support

In Best Interest of the Child, Child Support, child trafficking, children legal status, children's behaviour, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, deadbeat dads, Department of Social Servies, Divorce, Domestic Relations, Domestic Violence, due process rights, family court, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fatherlessness, fathers rights, federal crimes, Freedom, judicial corruption, kidnapped children, Liberty, motherlessness, mothers rights, National Parents Day, Non-custodial fathers, Non-custodial mothers, parental alienation, Parentectomy, Parents rights, Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, state crimes, Title Iv-D on May 26, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Fueling the Machinery: The Role of Child Support
By Stephen Baskerville
The Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society
May/June 2006

The other dilemma raised by involuntary divorce — also now manifest in today’s marriage controversies — was how to finance the increased costs it inevitably brought. The solution was child support, which provides financial incentives to weaken marriage and sever the ties between children and parents, particularly fathers.

Like most of the government machinery now used to administer divorce, child support grew directly out of welfare. It was designed not for middle-class divorced families, but for welfare families that had never been formed through marriage in the first place. Its justification was to recover welfare costs and save public revenue. (In fact, it has consistently lost money, with a current annual deficit approaching $3 billion.)[113] In fact, the subsequent experience might well be seen as a vindication of prophecies that a quasi-socialistic welfare state would inevitably create a “road to serfdom.”

Though the social consequences of mass fatherlessness have been apparent for decades in welfare-dependent communities, thanks to the 1965 Moynihan Report, the political implications for freedom were not as apparent as they are now becoming with middle-class divorce. Because most low-income parents were not living together (which welfare discouraged), there was seldom a need to forcibly evict the father. Employing law-enforcement methods to coerce him to provide for the family was also readily justified, both because his children were receiving welfare and because he was not residing in the home where he could provide for his children as he saw fit. The fact that often he had not made a formal lifetime commitment to the family through marriage no doubt also contributed to the moral case for coercive action against him. No distinction was recognized between fathers who shirked their responsibilities and those who accepted them. Similar to the status later afforded to involuntarily divorced spouses, the unmarried father was treated as “guilty” of paternity and subject to the penal system.

Having erected this machinery to coerce relatively small sums from low-income fathers, where marriage had not taken place, the welfare agencies then extended their jurisdiction to middle-class fathers, whose marriages had to be — and because of no-fault divorce, now could be — forcibly dissolved by court action and where much more substantial sums were available. As with no-fault divorce, no public debate preceded a massive expansion in the scope of state power over family finances and private family life.[114]

It was already known that welfare payments to low-income mothers result in increased divorce (before it led them to forego marriage altogether).[115] Child support added a dimension of law enforcement and forced the middle-class father, as Jed Abraham puts it, “to finance the filching of his own children.”[116] Child support thus became an “unintended economic incentive for middle-class women to seek divorce”: “Strong enforcement…may, in fact, lead to…the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood of divorce.”[117]

“Deadbeat dads” are another of those public malefactors whose crimes are so repugnant that innocence is no excuse. Yet no government agency has ever produced any scientific evidence that there is, or ever has been, a problem of parents not supporting their children other than that created by the government. Psychologist Sanford Braver, in the largest federally funded study ever undertaken on the subject, conclusively demonstrated that the “deadbeat dad” is largely a government creation. Described by FrontPageMagazine as “the most important work of conservative social science in a decade,”[118] Braver’s study showed that the child support “crisis” consists of little more than the government separating children from their fathers, imposing patently impossible debts on fathers who have done nothing to incur those debts, and then arresting those who, quite predictably, cannot pay. His research undermined every justification for the multi-billion dollar criminal enforcement machinery. Yet eight years after Braver’s book, no enforcement agency has responded to his findings.

Others have confirmed them. William Comanor and a team of scholars have documented the faulty economics. Ronald Henry calls the system and its rationalization “an obvious sham,” “the most onerous form of debt collection practiced in the United States,” and one “that is matched nowhere else in [the] legal system.”[119]

The consequences are corrosive of not only family stability, but constitutional protections. Bryce Christensen argues for a “linkage between aggressive child-support policies and the erosion of wedlock” and writes, “the advocates of ever-more-aggressive measures for collecting child support have trampled on the prerogatives of local government, have moved us a dangerous step closer to a police state, and have violated the rights of innocent and often impoverished fathers.”[120] Abraham writes that “the government commands an extensive enforcement apparatus, a veritable gulag, complete with sophisticated surveillance and compliance capabilities such as computer-based tracing, license revocation, asset confiscation, and incarceration. The face of this regime is decidedly Orwellian.”[121]

Like domestic violence and child abuse measures, child support enforcement is governed by an explicit presumption of guilt, wherein the accused must prove his innocence. “The burden of proof may be shifted to the defendant,” according to an approving legal analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Further, “not all child support contempt proceedings classified as criminal are entitled to a jury trial,” and “even indigent obligors are not necessarily entitled to a lawyer.”[122] A father who has lost his children through literally “no fault” of his own must prove his innocence without a formal charge, without counsel, and without facing a jury of his peers.

Child support enforcement further blurs the distinction between guilt and innocence, since officials monitor parents with arrearages, those whose payments are current, and even citizens who are not under an order. The presumption of guilt against those obeying the law was revealed by one official who boasted that “we don’t give them an opportunity to become deadbeats” and by former Attorney General Janet Reno, who referred to current payments “collected from deadbeat parents,” branding as criminals parents who do pay.[123] The presumption that not only all parents under child support orders are already quasi-criminals, but all citizens are potential criminals against whom pre-emptive enforcement measures must be initiated now in anticipation of their future criminality, is revealed by NCSL, which justifies collecting names from the general population by saying, “At one point or another, many people will either be obligated to pay or eligible to receive child support.”[124]

The role of child support in undermining marriage also explains why the fatherhood and marriage promotion measures of the last two administrations have achieved little and why they may be exacerbating the problem.

During the 1990s, the Clinton administration and other governments initiated programs to “promote fatherhood.” Despite the professed (and possibly quite sincere) aim of extolling the importance of fathers and the need to reconnect them with their children, in practice these programs themselves often ended up serving as justifications for collecting child support. The result, therefore, was somewhat opposite of what was advertised, since the federal government was promoting fatherhood with one hand while subsidizing divorce and fatherless homes financially with the other.

Under the Bush administration, the emphasis shifted from fatherhood to marriage. Yet the substance remained similar. While the initiative seems likewise to have proceeded from a genuine desire to redirect priorities toward programs that enhance marriage, with funds devoted to marriage counseling, in practice it has also been compromised by political pressure to continue the essentially punitive approach to family dissolution dominated by the child support system. Since January 2003, some substantial grants announced by HHS under the Healthy Marriage initiative have gone to child support enforcement agencies and private groups involved in collection.[125]

In short, the debate about the desirability of the government promoting marriage and fatherhood may be rendered irrelevant by the fact that the programs are not always what they appear. Whatever the merits of programs encouraging marriage formation, it is not clear that these disbursements even can achieve the desired goal. It is more likely that by expanding programs that are predicated on the removal of the father from the home, the federal funds are undermining marriage rather than encouraging it. Whatever one’s sympathies, on both sides the public debate over government marriage programs has been somewhat beside the point.

113 Child Support Enforcement (CSE) FY 2002 Preliminary Data Report, 29 April 2003, figures 1 and 2 (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/pubs/2003/reports/prelim_datareport/).

114 See “Statement of Leslie L. Frye, Chief, Office of Child Support California Department of Social Services Testimony…on the Administration’s Child Support Enforcement Incentive Payment Proposal, March 20, 1997” (http://waysandmeans.house.gov/legacy/humres/105cong/3-20-97/3-20frye.htm), 1-2.

115 Saul Hoffman and Greg Duncan, “The Effects of Incomes, Wages, and AFDC Benefits on Marital Disruption,” Journal of Human Resources 30 (1995), 19-41.

116 Jed Abraham, From Courtship to Courtroom: What Divorce Law Is Doing to Marriage (New York: Bloch, 1999), 151.

117 Kimberly Folse and Hugo Varela-Alvarez, “Long-Run Economic Consequences of Child Support Enforcement,” Journal of Socio-Economics, vol. 31, issue 3 (2002), 274, 283, 284.

118 Sanford L. Braver, Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1998); Robert Locke, “Deadbeat Social Scientists,” FrontPageMagazine.com, 2 July 2001 (http://frontpagemag.com/columnists/ locke/2001/locke06-29-01.htm).

119 Ronald Henry, “Child Support Policy and the Unintended Consequences of Good Intentions,” in W.S. Comanor (ed.), The Law and Economics of Child Support Payments (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2004), 130, 135, 139.

120 Bryce Christensen, “The Strange Politics of Child Support,” Society, vol. 39, no. 1 (Nov.-Dec. 2001), p. 63.

121 Jed Abraham, From Courtship to Courtroom: What Divorce Law Is Doing to Marriage (New York: Bloch, 1999), pp. 154-155.

122 NCSL Internet site: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/cyf/Criminalnon.htm (accessed 28 August 2001).

123 Robert O’Harrow, “Uncle Sam Has All Your Numbers,” Washington Post, 27 June 1999, A1; “Attorney General Reno Announces Plan to Crack Down on Dead-Beat Parents Who Fail to Pay Child Support,” Department of Justice press release, 22 December 1994.

124 NCSL Internet site: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/cyf/csissue.htm (accessed 24 January 2000).

125 “ACF Approves Child Support Demonstrations in Four States,” Administration for Children and Families press release, 29 April 2004.

The original article can be found here: The Real Danger of Same-Sex Marriage http://www.profam.org/pub/fia/fia.2005.6.htm#Fueling_the_Machinery:_The_Role_of_Child_Support

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