The American court system jails thousands of parents every year for not paying child support. I read the article, and I have a couple of thoughts:

First, Article III Section 2 of the Constitution provides that crimes, except impeachment cases, must be tried before a jury, unless the defendant waivers his or her right. The court has managed to work around that by claiming that “contempt of court” cases are not crimes. Regardless, the Seventh Amendment states that in Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law. Our court simply seems to ignore the plain intent of the founders: that no one person have the power of a King, not even a judge. The jury was to be the check and balance on the court. That is no more.

Then there are the practical and moral problems. My first wife and I got divorced in 1999.Following the state law formula, the court ordered that I pay half of my take home pay to my ex wife, nominally for child support. At the time, I grossed $1000 every two weeks. After taxes, I was left with about $720 each payday. $348 in child support was taken from my check, and sent to the ex-wife, leaving me with $720 per month to live on. The rent on my apartment was $600 for a small one bedroom. I was soon homeless and without a car, moving from couch to couch at the homes of friends. I got a second job, picking up garbage after the Shamu show at Sea World. I got an apartment with three roommates. I bought a car at a “buy here, pay here.” Somehow, I made it.

Except that the ex wife didn’t have a job, meaning that the support was more for her than for the children. The children would come over for visitation wearing rags, so I would have to buy them new clothes. Then they would ask for money for field trips and school supplies. Their mother would tell them that they couldn’t have it, and that I should pay it. Not wanting to deny them, I gave them the money.

My ex-wife was collecting more than $1400 a month in child support, and because she didn’t have to claim it as income, was getting another $400 a month in food stamps. she also claimed to be making $9,000 a year babysitting children, thus qualifying for $300 a month in earned income credit and another $300 per month in welfare. That’s right- she was making $2400 per month in child support and government checks, and babysitting the neighbor’s kids for a total take home of $3100 per month, tax free. That is the equivalent of grossing over $40,000 a year. Meanwhile, I was living below the poverty level. It is easy to see why many men become “deadbeats.” The child support system is fundamentally unfair, and there is no mechanism in place to ensure that the money actually supports the child.

Twelve years later, my kids are both grown up and have been living on their own for years. The punishing child support is a distant memory. The ex-wife got a job at WalMart as a cashier, worked there for a year, and injured her back. She is on Social Security disability and welfare now. As far as I know, other than that one year working at Wal Mart, she has never had a job her entire adult life.

But if I had failed to pay even some of that money, it is me who would have gone to jail, without an attorney, without a trial. Where is the real crime here? The only good thing that I can say I got out of all of those issues is that I no longer fear poverty, for I know what poverty is. I learned what it is like to work hard, and to work long hours just to eat. To this day, I still work two jobs, even though I no longer need the money.

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1 Comment

Bob S. · September 14, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I've experienced many sides to this issue.

As a single man, for a short time, I dated a woman receiving child support, food stamps etc.
I was working full time and taking 6 to 9 hours of college at the time.

I ate hamburger helper, raman, mac and cheese etc. She invited me over to dine on steak and lobster.

As an uncle, I watched my sister abuse the system to "support" my nieces and nephews. Was disgusted on how she gamed the system and lived without working.

As a step father, I've seen the extraordinary steps (moving states, changing jobs, etc) a father can go in avoiding paying child support.

I think a drastic revision of the methodology and concept behind child support needs to happen.

I would ask a simple question of the custodial parent, IF something happens and the paying parent can't not pay — how will you support those children?

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