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Modern Day Slavery by Becky Kiely & Tonya Klar

Modern Day Slavery

By Becky Kiely & Tonya Klar

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, abolishing slavery.

If you look up slavery in Webster’s, this is what you will find:

Pronunciation: 'slA-v(&-)rE
Function: noun
Date: 1551
2 : submission to a dominating influence
3 a : the state of a person who is a chattel of another b : the practice of slaveholding

I would say, for the purposes of this article, that the US government is a dominating influence.

Article XIII of the United States Constitution states:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

It seems blatantly clear that slaves were emancipated in 1863 and that this Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1865. No slaves in this country for over 100 years, correct? Not so.

Non-custodial parents are sold into slavery every single day, by the very government sworn to protect them from such treatment. Generally, these parents are fathers, so for the purpose of this article, I shall refer to these modern slaves in the masculine.

It used to be that when a couple with children divorced and child support assessed, it was paid between the parties. Often, there was no court intervention, it was settled between the parents. Yes, there were some who ignored this obligation to their children, so the term “Deadbeat Dads” was coined.

Article XIV, Section 1 of the US Constitution reads as follows:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

So, how is it that our legislators were able to write the current "Deadbeat Dad" laws? How were the current policies and procedures surrounding Child Support collection allowed to be accepted and put into place?

In 1998, United States Code Title 18, Section 228 was amended to address "Deadbeat Parents". Section a addresses what constitutes an offense against this code:

(a) Offense. - Any person who -

(1) willfully fails to pay a support obligation with respect to a child who resides in another State, if such obligation has remained unpaid for a period longer than 1 year, or is greater than $5,000; (author’s note: It’s ok to fail to pay if you are in the SAME State as the child?)

(2) travels in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to evade a support obligation, if such obligation has remained unpaid for a period longer than 1 year, or is greater than $5,000; or

(3) willfully fails to pay a support obligation with respect to a child who resides in another State, if such obligation has remained unpaid for a period longer than 2 years, or is greater than $10,000;

I would submit that these are very good guidelines (except for the "another State" part), as no parent should shirk their responsibility to their child(ren). But, I must take exception to Section c of this code:

(c) Punishment. - The punishment for an offense under this section is -

(1) in the case of a first offense under subsection (a)(1), a fine under this title, imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both; and

(2) in the case of an offense under paragraph (2) or (3) of subsection (a), or a second or subsequent offense under subsection (a)(1), a fine under this title, imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or both.

How was this passed, when it’s against US Law to be jailed for owing a debt? What about “due process”? Fathers are routinely jailed for a debt without a day in court. That’s two Constitutional violations in one sentence! Nowhere in this title is there any reference to the father’s day in court. That’s because, pursuant to this title, there is no day in court.

President Clinton has vigorously embraced and addressed the question of deadbeats with a series of new initiatives to collect more child support. According to the White House web site, “since the President took office, child support collections have doubled from $8 billion in 1992 to nearly $16 billion in 1999. Today, parents who owe child support have their wages garnished, their bank accounts seized, their federal loans denied, and their tax refunds withheld. Not only are collections up, but the number of families that are actually receiving child support has also increased. In 1998, the number of child support cases with collections rose to 4.5 million, an increase of 59 percent from 2.8 million in 1992. A new collection system, proposed by the President in 1994 and enacted as part of the 1996 welfare reform law, has already located over 3.5 million delinquent parents. Over $1.3 billion was collected from federal income tax refunds for tax year 1998, double the amount since 1992.

In addition, a new program established in 1999 that matches records of parents who owe child support with multi-state financial institutions, has already identified nearly 900,000 delinquent parents with accounts valued at $3 billion. In June 1998, the President signed the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, enacting tougher penalties for parents who repeatedly fail to support children living in another state or who flee across state lines. The number of fathers taking responsibility for their children by establishing paternity rose to a record 1.5 million in 1998, triple the 1992 figure of 516,000.” (quoted from whitehouse.gov/WH/Accomplishments/welfare.html)

My response, point by point is this:

Child support collections have doubled during Mr. Clinton’s term. Could this be because divorces have increased the amount of child support awards? Could it be because more families have to go through the child support system, rather than fulfilling this obligation privately? Or, could it be because of the way these records are kept? In New York, on the first day of each month, each account shows an arrearage equal to the amount of the month award. Each pay period, when the garnished funds are received, the “arrearage” decreases. Therefore, NY can claim that every penny of support collected is back support. Does this sound fair? Does this guarantee due process? Does this not force the fathers of NY to toil in submission of a dominating influence?

Further, in NY, a minimum award of $25 per week must be ordered. Where does this leave the parents who wish to handle this situation privately? Where does this leave the custodial parents who want no money from the non-custodial parent, instead wanting the love for their child(ren) to be the support? What right does the state have to order any amount when the parents wish to handle it differently? Different does not always mean wrong! I suppose this is because each state is in receipt of Federal funds based on their amount of child support collections. This system works more for the best interest of the States, rather than the best interest of the children.

Wage garnishment. Well, well. It seems to me that the premise of wage garnishment was to collect a debt when all other avenues have failed. In the child support arena, wage garnishment is the presumption in most cases, instituted before the obligor has the opportunity to default. By assessing this garnishment as soon as child support is awarded, the father is presumed guilty with no chance of proving innocence. This is a clear violation of due process. In fact, in Texas, it is illegal to use wage garnishment as a means for debt collection. However, Federal agencies are exempt from this law. It seems that Federal agencies are exempt from a lot of laws.

I wouldn’t be so quick to tout the number of tax refunds seized in 1998. My husband and I had a refund seized in error. I won’t go into the nightmare of getting that refund, nor will I bother to mention that 100% of joint return can’t be seized to fulfill the debt of one party-it was done, so I guess that policy is moot. How many others were seized in error, due to lax record keeping, but still added into the amount of arrearages collected through such seizure?

And, then there’s the new employee reporting initiative. This initiative has employers reporting all new employees to a clearinghouse, to be matched against a database of child support obligors. Now our government has violated MY right to privacy, MY right to due process, since I don’t owe child support, past or present. I don’t find it to be any of the government’s business when I take a new job. I pay my taxes so there’s no reason for “big brother” to watch me. Yet, he does.

Measures have been instituted to seize professional and recreational vehicles, gambling winnings and to “boot” the cars of the men in arrears. Would this not constitute depriving one of his property? This, too, is a violation of due process.

Granted, the act was written as the “Deadbeat PARENTS Punishment Act”, however, the press and many politicians, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore included, still only refer to deadbeat Dads, NOT deadbeat parents or deadbeat Mothers.

And, Mr. Clinton’s site states that more fathers are taking responsibility by establishing their paternity. What a boon for the government! A father establishes paternity and the government gets to boast even higher child support collections! So, how come a “father” that DISproves paternity still has to pay child support? Judges say that it’s in “the best interest” of the child(ren) in question NOT to know the truth, to continue with the “stability” already established. How much stability can be built on a lie? How much stability is provided by a mother who should be found guilty of fraud? Based on this, not only are fathers sold into slavery every day, so are men who are NOT fathers. I’d say that’s quite a slap in the face of the Constitution, a slap delivered squarely by Mr. Clinton and his administration.

In this administration’s zeal to promote responsible fatherhood, responsible motherhood has been ignored. Why has the government not done anything to mothers who move their children to another state to avoid having to share parenting? Why has the government not done anything to mothers who interfere in the relationship between a father and his child(ren)? Parental Alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome and Malicious Mother Syndrome are rampant in this country and no law addresses this. If a father does not pay support, he is jailed without trial. If a mother interferes with the father/child relationship, why is she not called to account for her actions? This is most certainly a violation of our constitutions equal protection clause.

And, then there’s HR 2855, introduced by Representative Robert Andrews of New Jersey. This summary of this bill, titled “Child Support Reserve Trust Act” explains the purpose of the bill:

Summary: To amend the Social Security Act to require that anticipated child support be held in trust on the sale or refinancing of certain real property of an obligated parent.

And here are the required procedures:

b) REQUIRED PROCEDURES-The procedures described in this subsection are procedures to carry out the following:

On any sale or refinancing by a person of any real property in the State against
which a lien for amounts of due support owed by the person has ever arisen,
without regard to whether such lien has ever been extinguished, the
State reserve trust unit shall--

(A) withhold the net proceeds of the person from the sale or refinancing;

(B) apply the net proceeds withheld under subparagraph (A) to any overdue
support owed by the person;

(C) determine the anticipated future child support of the person;

(D) hold in trust, for the benefit of the child or children for whom the person
has a support obligation, an amount equal to the lesser of--

(i) the anticipated future child support determined under subparagraph (C); and

(ii) the net proceeds withheld under subparagraph (A), as reduced by any
application of such proceeds under subparagraph (B); and

(E) distribute to the person any amounts not held in trust under subparagraph

This bill once again presumes the father guilty, with no chance to prove his innocence. Even if a man has gone into arrears at some point, there is no basis for the assumption of recidivism. More often than not, the reason for arrearage is a change in circumstances (disability, lay off, economic inability to pay, etc.). Yet another piece political rhetoric authored to please someone-a strong lobbyist, a contributor? I would think so, as it does nothing to strengthen any family value! It also violates due process, but, are we surprised by now? Could you imagine if you sold your house, still owing a mortgage which should be paid off by the proceeds and suddenly the government seized all or part of it? You would be in default with your mortgagor, unable to pay the debt and forced into being a homeless and bankrupt person, who couldn’t pay their child support. Oh, but thank God, there is a solution! You can go to jail, where you will be properly housed and fed. But, that won’t satisfy your child support obligations. On the brighter side, it will keep you in that cozy cell until you die or until you are extremely old, at which point you can move into a state nursing home to be cared for even better than when in prison! Ahhhh…the AMERICAN DREAM…More like the AMERICAN NIGHTMARE! Now, if a father decides to sell his house to pay off a high mortgage and move into a less expensive home, he can’t! A man cannot improve his economic situation without penalty. If this is not slavery, what is? Instead of presuming guilt, why can’t we help these fathers in the fulfillment of an obligation very few scorn? Why can’t we make these awards economically feasible, then accept changes in circumstances by helping the man, instead of shunning him? (translate: jailing him and/or seizing his assets, the very assets he’s trying to parlay into child support.)

Our current system allows violation of the aforementioned equal protection clause routinely and in almost every aspect of this discussion. Assessment of child support, refusal to enforce parenting time for the non-custodial parent, presumption of guilty before proven so and every single one of the other constitutional violations I’ve outlined permit a burden to be imposed upon one class of citizens---divorced or separated parents---that cannot in like circumstances be imposed upon married parents residing together. It also places a burden on non-custodial parents that is not placed on custodial parents.

Further, the current method of assessing child support awards is blatantly unfair. The current percentage-based system does not allow for equality among children. 17% of my income is much lower than 17% of my ex-husband’s. Does this mean that my child is worth less if he lives with his father? Does this mean that a rich parent’s child is worth more than mine? The government has figured how much it costs to raise a child on a per state basis, in order to figure welfare and social security payments. Why does it cost more to raise my child than it does to raise the child of a welfare recipient? Child support should be figure-based, using the figures that the government has already compiled and accepted. Then, the assessed figure should be split in half, with both parents equally responsible for the financial support of their children. In tandem with this, the emotional support of the children should be addressed. Children deserve the love, nurturing and guidance of both parents. This is a God-given right that should never be violated. The best interest of the children is not solely financial. It is a compilation of everything that a parent has to offer.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with some food for thought:

  • 37.9% of fathers have no access/visitation rights. (Source: p.6, col.II, para. 6, lines 4 & 5, Census Bureau P-60, #173, Sept 1991.)

  • 40% of mothers reported that they had interfered with the non-custodial father's visitation on at least one occasion, to punish the ex-spouse. (Source: p. 449, col. II, lines 3-6, (citing Fulton) Frequency of visitation by Divorced Fathers; Differences in Reports by Fathers and Mothers. Sanford Braver et al, Am. J. of Orthopsychiatry, 1991.)

  • Overall, approximately 50% of mothers "see no value in the father`s continued contact with his children...." (Source: Surviving the Breakup, Joan Kelly & Judith Wallerstein, p. 125)

  • In a study: "Visitational Interference - A National Study" by Ms. J Annette Vanini, M.S.W. and Edward Nichols, M.S.W., it was found that 77% of non-custodial fathers are NOT able to "visit" their children, as ordered by the court, as a result of "visitation interference" perpetuated by the custodial parent. In other words, non-compliance with court ordered visitation is three times the problem of non-compliance with court ordered child support and impacts the children of divorce even more. Originally published Sept. 1992

  • Information from multiple sources show that only 10% of all non-custodial fathers fit the "deadbeat dad" category: 90% of the fathers with joint custody paid the support due. Fathers with visitation rights pay 79.1%; and 44.5% of those with NO visitation rights still financially support their children. (Source: Census Bureau report. Series P-23, No. 173). Author’s note: The Census Bureau has also established that at least 6% of deadbeat dads are actually dead.

  • Additionally, of those not paying support, 66% are not doing so because they lack the financial resources to pay (Source: GAO report: GAO/HRD-92-39 FS).

  • 66% of single mothers work less than full time while only 10% of fathers fall into this category. In addition, almost 47% of non-custodial mothers default on support compared with the 27% of fathers who default. (Source: Garansky and Meyer, DHHS Technical Analysis Paper No. 42, 1991)

If these figures don’t prove that the system is seriously flawed, what does?

It will be interesting to see if the next administration is the second to abolish slavery. It will be interesting to see if they will address the concerns of non-custodial parents, their families and their children in a meaningful manner that will bring equality to all and a return to the true spirit of the Constitution. It will be interesting to see if the next administration takes up where the current leaves off, delivering blow after blow to everyone’s Constitutional rights.

© Copyright 2000-Kiely & Klar

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