You'll read about it often -- the creative methods judges and other officials use to shame people who owe child support.
Much is made of the offensive moniker "deadbeat dads" and the histrionic punishments doled out by zealous judges.
However, throughout my 20+ years with Cordell & Cordell advocating for fathers' rights, it is apparent the more pertinent story is the paucity of attention, much less innovation, given the reciprocal problem relating to primary custodians that defy court orders respecting the other parent's access and participation in children's lives.
The disparity between enforcement of failing to pay child support and custodial interference is particularly calamitous for fathers, who represent 87.1 percent of child support payers and 82.6 percent of noncustodial parents, according to the U.S. Census.
One might argue that the incongruity evidences the financial responsibility of rearing a child is held in higher regard than the emotional connection of a child to a parent.
Allow me to explain.
Child Support Enforcement
What happens to a father who is unable to maintain his child support payments, even after only a few months of failing to pay? Enforcement is swift, heavy-handed, and can be brought about privately, by hiring private counsel, or by utilizing a local child support enforcement office.
Sometimes the individual owed child support will not have to ask for assistance. If the offender has met certain thresholds for noncompliance, such as a failure to pay for three consecutive months, the enforcement office may step in and seek to enforce the child support order without prompting from the other party.
Depending on the jurisdiction, several penalties may be carried out administratively or "extra-judicially" without the need for judicial intervention or a hearing in court.
The offending individual may receive notice that their driver's license is being suspended, their passport is being confiscated, their vehicle is being repossessed, a lien has been placed on their property, or their federal tax return will be intercepted.
Jail time, while rare, is still a real and unnerving possibility for many fathers.
When dealing with custodial interference, there are far fewer options for enforcement.
Custodial Interference Enforcement Options
Consider what happens when an ex-spouse ignores the court-ordered parenting time scheduled and keeps the children from the other parent.
The father goes to pick the kids up, but the ex-wife won't let them leave the house. The dad is supposed to have Father's Day with the kids this year, but she took them to see their grandfather.
The initial reaction is to call the police. Good luck with that. Typically, law enforcement will not help enforce visitation. Rather than request assistance from a local authority or wait for an agency to step in, visitation is treated as a civil matter.
Therefore, an individual must either choose to a family law attorney or attempt to maneuver the legal system on their own.
Court-appointed attorneys for proceedings to enforce visitation are rare. Further, fewer legal aid resources are offering assistance when it comes to cases involving visitation and custody matters.
Thus, enforcement becomes a matter of the ability of a party to afford representation to enforce the order, styled either as a motion for contempt or motion to modify.
If an individual is not comfortable or savvy enough to file for enforcement on their own and cannot afford to hire counsel, then they typically are without means to enforce the visitation order.
Disparity in Enforcement
It is evident that the enforcement of child support and visitation are treated separately in the civil system. The law is quick and severe when child support is not paid but is largely toothless when a father is denied seeing his children.
Through both the financial ability to enforce, the variety of punishments, and access to remedies that extend the judicial system to administrative matters, the disparity of enforcement is blatant.