On April 19, 2015, Frances Robles and Shaila Dewan's article titled "Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat" was published in the New York Times.
The article raises many serious issues regarding the manner in which family law matters are handled and uses Walter L. Scott as an example.
Mr. Scott had four children and yet couldn't afford to support those children because of his earning potential, even before he lost his job due to child support arrearages enforcement efforts. Who do you think picks up the cost of raising those children through welfare and other such programs? The taxpayers!
In 2010, I wrote a blog titled "The Cost of Raising Children," which was republished by Valley Lawyer Magazine.
In that article, I stated in pertinent part as follows:
Parents almost always tell me that their children mean more to them than anything else. Considering the cost of raising a child, I would certainly hope this statement to be true. However, what parents seem to forget when they are divorcing or their relationship is ending, is that children are expensive. Since most parents never used the USDA Calculator, they never really thought about the cost of their children. It is only when the relationship comes to an end that the parents have to deal with the issue of child support....
I also discussed the economic concept of economies of scale, when I stated the following: "In reality, the only reason the couple was able to afford the 3 children while still together (assuming that they could afford the 3 children) is because they only had one household to support."
I addressed these same issues last year, when I was interviewed for an article that was published on Yahoo! en Espanol.
Needless to say, I have no patience for people who fail to consider the consequences of their actions -- procreation being just one such action. This is a very serious issue and when people aren't held accountable, they have no incentive to modify their behavior. Regardless, I don't know what, if anything, can be done to address this problem, except for sex education in school. Unfortunately, this is not being taught in a great many parts of the United States for religious reasons.
To say that I am frustrated with these religious based arguments against human rights and public policy, would be an understatement. Such arguments are causing a great deal of trouble in our society because they ignore reality. Abstinence is certainly not realistic, based upon the research, regardless of what the religious community may want to believe. Don't even get me started about the religious community's issue with homosexuality. I can go on and on, but that is not pertinent to my commentary on this article.
It's true that "the problem begins with child support orders that, at the outset, can exceed parents' ability to pay." Of course, this goes back to the reality that children are expensive and that people should consider this before procreating!
As far as jail for non-payment of child support is concerned, that only occurs after a contempt hearing, wherein it is determined that the parent didn't pay the child support at a time when they had the ability to pay. Since the consequences may involve jail time, this is considered a quasi-criminal matter. Therefore, in California, if a person is not represented by an attorney at that hearing, the judge advises them that it is a quasi-criminal matter and strongly encourages them to obtain counsel and will continue the hearing date for that purpose. The court also lets them know that if they can't afford counsel, the court would appoint counsel on their behalf, as they do in criminal proceedings. It should be noted that the reason that this policy unfairly impacts the poor is because "enforcement tactics vary from state to state, as do policies such as whether parents facing jail are given court-appointed lawyers."
With regard to "imputed income," we deal with this issue in many family law matters with regard to spousal and child support. The reality is that such "income" is often based upon fantasy more than reality, as is reflected in the article.
As far as gender biases regarding a requirement for parents to work is concerned, all I have to say is that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. These outdated beliefs about gender roles need to go by the wayside. Of course, many of these beliefs are also religious based.
In any event, the other serious issue involves the cost of child care. It is not unheard of for a parent to be unable to afford to work because the cost of child care would exceed their earning potential or otherwise consume a significant part of it. Once again, this goes back to the cost of raising children and the fact that this should be taught in school.
Finally, the article discusses the unintended consequences of incarceration for failing to pay child support -- (1) shame; (2) loss of employment; (3) isolation; and (4) substance abuse, among other things. I talk about unintended consequences of policies and approaches all the time. As I keep saying, life is like physics -- for every action there is a reaction -- cause and effect.