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Family Attorney Marsha Freeman: ‘The System is Broken’

December 2nd, 2009 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

John Nelson went from six-figure-earning software exectutive to unemployed overnight.  But his $2,200 child support payment didn’t change that quickly.  It took a year for him to get a hearing, and when he finally did, the judge increased his obligation.  By that time he had gotten a job as a science teacher, but the newly-upped child support obligation meant that he took home a grand total of $58 per week.  Read about it here (WFTV, 11/9/09).

The judge, Julian Piggotte’s attitude was you “can afford it; figure it out.”  Then she discovered that she had a conflict of interest in Nelson’s case and withdrew.

His ex-wife sees the situation this way:

“Our lives go on. The kids still have lunches, they still go to school, and they still have field trips.”

That’s true.  And if she and John were still together, the kids would need to be fed and go to school, but their standard of living would drop along with that of their parents.  That’s what happens when parents lose their jobs - parents and children live on less.  They all manage the best they can.  It’s one of the sometimes-harsh realities of daily life.

Only if the parents are divorced does the concept arise that the children’s lives must in no way change due to a parent’s loss of income.  It’s as if Judge Piggotte lives in a fantasy world in which children must and do remain unaffected when their father loses his job.  Indeed, it’s the same fantasy world in which an adult can live on $58 per week.

Nelson’s case is like countless others these days.  Some 80% of job losses have been suffered by men in the last year or so.  A lot of those guys are fathers, some of them divorced.  That means they have to file for a modification of their support orders. 

It’s another strange aspect of the whole matter that, if Nelson’s wife had wanted a temporary restraining order against him, she could have gotten a hearing and had an order issued in  a matter of hours.  But when he loses his job and needs to reduce his child support to reflect what he can actually pay, it takes over a year.

I’ve written before about the corruption in the child support system.  Countless people have spoken up about it.  Carol Rhodes was an insider who told us how child support bureaucrats think of fathers as “payers,” and how they frankly do everything in their power to prevent downward modifications of support.  It’s all because states are paid about 66 cents by the federal government for every dollar of child support collected.  It’s a system that’s ripe for corruption and abuse, and that’s exactly what happens.

As I’ve mentioned before, debtors’ prisons were supposed to have been done away with in the 19th century.  As a child I learned the obvious fact that debtors’ prisons were a ridiculous approach to debt.  How could a debtor pay if he/she were in prison?  That seemed perfectly obvious to me, so it’s a surprise that we’ve reinstituted them at this late date, and for one form of debt only – child support.

Here’s another thing I learned, albeit somewhat later.  For much of European history (and perhaps that of other parts of the world), tax collectors were paid a percentage of what they could squeeze out of obligors.  The more they collected, the more they got paid.  It was a system that absolutely guaranteed that collectors would use the most ruthless and brutal of tactics against taxpayers.  It also guaranteed that tax collectors would be hated and feared, and that the system of collection would be resented by all.

So, like debtors’ prisons, it’s astonishing that we’ve basically resurrected the same concept.  The feds give states a percentage of their child support collections, which results in ruthless abuse of obligors like John Nelson, who in turn hate the system. 

What’s next, the iron maiden?

Thanks to Laurie for the heads-up.

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