Saturday, February 19, 2005

Punitive child support enforcement

John sends this NY Times story on punitive child support enforcement:
Donald Gardner owes $119,846 in back child support to his former wife, but there is little chance he will pay it soon - or ever.

After failing to pay support for his two children for much of the early 1990's because he felt the payments were too high, Mr. Gardner broke 27 bones in a car accident in 1997. Being in and out of hospitals for three years left him penniless, and when he tried to return to work he found that the state had suspended his driver's license because of his accumulated child support debt.

That prevented him from going back to work as an interstate truck driver.

"I've decided that I'd like to get this behind me and pay the support," said Mr. Gardner, 47, who now lives in a homeless shelter in Harlem, "but if I can't drive I can't pay. It is like a Catch-22." ...

About 70 percent of the debt is owed by men who earn $10,000 a year or less, or have no recorded wage earnings at all, according to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. Less than 4 percent is owed by men with incomes of more than $40,000.

And the poorer men are getting caught in a vicious circle. Their debts have become obstacles to getting licenses for jobs to help them produce wages to pay down the debts.

Recent research by the Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington, found that aggressive collection of debts played a crucial role in pushing low-income black men ages 25 to 34 out of lawful employment, the opposite effect policy makers might have desired.
I think that it is exactly the effect that the policy makers wanted. They are all in favor of throwing low-income black men in debtors prisons. There is no other explanation for their policies.
Mr. Gardner, for example, said he had been to court to get his driver's license back on the condition that he started paying his former wife. But the court would not agree to the arrangement, he said, because it could not locate his wife.

"In theory you are supposed to be able to go into court and you are supposed to be able to get modifications," Ms. Holtzman said. "But in reality, there are a lot of judges who are sick and tired of dads who haven't paid child support. They don't want to hear you had a drug problem or were in prison. They just want the money and they don't even care if you can't pay it."
Remember, these child support obligations are to moms and welfare agencies, and there is no requirement that any of it be spent on children.

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