FRIDAY, MARCH I 9, 1993
(Editor’s Note: This letter by Travis Ballard, a lawyer in Adrian, was submitted by the National Congress For Men and Children in reference to House Bills 4135-4138)
I am submitting this letter in the hopes that our citizens and our Legislature will wake up in time to prevent the loss of an untold number of lives in the State of Michigan. The legislation presently pending in the Michigan House was approved in Committee on March 10, 1993, and is expected to be promptly enacted. It involves the latest attempt to coerce child support collections by authorizing and directing the loss of driver’s licenses and occupational licenses of individuals with child support arrearages.
Although supported by many well intentioned individuals, the proposed legislation is poorly drafted and will result in destroying far more people than it benefits. In the final analysis, the amount of child support collected will undoubtedly decrease.
Child support enforcement agencies refuse to consider the legitimate concerns of non-custodial parents, which primarily concern the areas of access to their children, the necessary accountability over the use of the child support payments and the reasonableness of the amount awarded.
The emotional agony in divorce involving children is inherently intense. When child support enforcement agencies ignore due process and prefer one gender and over the other, it generates absolute frustration and despair. Most of the fathers who will suffer sanctions under these provisions will be financially unable to pay. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 66 percent of custodial mothers stated the reason they were not receiving financial child support was financial inability to pay.
However, few fathers will receive any sympathy or concern from a system that views them solely as objects to be manipulated, instead of loving parents caught up in the emotional and financial crisis of a divorce.
Most of our judges were raised mainly by their mothers (fathers working). As a result, fathers are unable to overcome the subrosa inborn prejudice and are treated with more contempt than shown to violent criminals. Consequently, their financial inability to pay will be ignored. Most will already have lost their homes, the ability to parent their children and already have an extremely high incidence of suicide. Taking the additional steps of removing their ability to drive and their ability to earn a living is certain to push many over the edge. Many will decide they have nothing left to live for.
Although I condemn violence and certainly recognize that violence in domestic relations matters only diminish fathers’ rights and the public sympathy for our plight, this legislation is certain to result in substantial loss of life. How many fathers will commit suicide and how many will improperly and unjustly face financial ruin before enough people recognize that our system must treat fathers with the concern and respect they deserve?
The proponents of the bills are primarily concerned that the Friend of the Court lacks an effective tool to collect child support from independent contractors who cannot be subjected to withholding by their employer. However, even this group is likely to have many unintended victims.
Unfortunately, the bills go too far and are certain to be applied inappropriately to destroy many loving fathers whose only crime is being male in a society that somehow fails to understand that divorced fathers love their children and strive to provide for their financial and emotional needs.
Some of the worst aspects of the legislation which desperately need amending, are the following:
l. There is little, if any, public policy reason to raise alimony to this level of punitive enforcement.
2. Ability to pay as defined in House Bill 4138 Section 26 (A)(4) is far too vague. At a minimum, the act must allow courts to consider the hardship to the payer and his family. The act implies the payer can magically obtain funds from a source other than currently available resources.
3. The bills allow suspension of licenses even though an income withholding order is in effect if it “has not been successful in compelling compliance with a support order.” By definition, if the withholding order cannot compel compliance-the payer has inadequate income to pay the amount of the order.
4. The notice provisions should require personal service. Imposing the obligation on the payer to keep the Friend of the Court informed of his or her address will result in many individuals failing to receive actual notice. Many fathers will have notified the Friend of the Court and the file will never be corrected, the required notice will be improperly addressed, lost in the mail or inadvertently misplaced at the payers residence (e.g. by a roommate or relative).
5. Allowing only 14 days after notice is mailed to request a hearing is far too short. After deducting the days lost in mailing, an individual out of town to look for a job, a death in the family or on vacation will never have an opportunity to request a hearing.
6. The bills allow the payer to seek a modification of his support order. However, an individual in such situations is likely to be unwilling to risk incurring the wrath of the referee who holds, what amounts to power of life and death over his head. Consequently, the referee should have the affirmative duty to determine that a downward modification is not then appropriate.
7. The law will require the Court to order a suspension if a payer fails to comply with an arrearage payment schedule. This provision will destroy many individuals who are unable to make the arrearage payments scheduled. Moreover, no clear guidelines are provided to the court in making its determination of the schedule for payment of the arrearage.
8. The court is directed to presume that the payer has Currently available resources equal to four weeks of the amount due under the order, in the absence of proof to the contrary. Few payers will be able to provide the “proof” required to satisfy a skeptical judge. When applied to license revocation, the inevitable injustice is inexcusable.
9. The Friend of the Court or a party should be required to seek, and the courts should be absolutely required to impose, the same sanctions for:
a) Repeated failure to comply with a visitation order; and
b) Repeated false allegations of physical or sexual child abuse.
10. Since the proposed legislation is only justifiable if it benefits children of divorce, lets make sure all of the money is spent on the children by requiring the funds to be deposited in a separate bank account and an annual statement of how such funds are spent filed with the Friend of the Court and mailed to the payer. If Social Security benefits paid for the benefit of a dependant child when a parent dies justifies such accountability, surely the far greater amounts generally paid in the form of child support, merit equal or greater concern.
National Congress for
Men and Children
(Written by Phillip Holman on behalf of Travis Ballard).