February 18th, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Lional Campbell’s son died in 1988 at the age of three of acute meningitis. Campbell’s been paying child support for the boy ever since. Read about it here (WXYZ, 2/15/13).
“How is that possible?” you ask. Well, all things considered, it wasn’t that hard. Take one father who was less curious about the workings of the Detroit Friend of the Court than he should have been, add one mother who – er – neglected to mention to the Friend of the Court that the little boy had died, stir in one blindingly incompetent Friend of the Court office and you have a recipe for fleecing an innocent man.
Although the details aren’t yet clear, it seems that Campbell had two children by a woman who, for reasons that escape me, remains unnamed in all the press accounts of the case. The first child was seven years older than the second. He’s now 34 years old. The second child came along, but contracted meningitis and died. Now, Campbell apparently knew he was no longer living, but continued paying child support for the first child. But, because the FOC believed he was paying for two children, his arrearages built up. Along with those arrearages came surcharges, i.e. interest and fees on top of what the FOC believed he owed.
Therefore, due to the FOC’s accounting deficiencies, Campbell paid for 25 years on a child who was dead. Finally, he figured out that all that money and all those arrearages and fees couldn’t be for his first child alone, so he drove from his home in Kentucky to the Friend of the Court office in Detroit, the child’s death certificate in hand. That was the cue for the FOC to begin behaving incompetently, arbitrarily and in full CYA mode. They first said they knew nothing about the death of his second son. Utterly contradicting themselves, they then said all the money had gone for his first son, plus interest and fees. Then they admitted that Campbell was right, so they did an audit. That indicated he still owed over $40,000.
Campbell wasn’t buying it, so he requested another audit… and another, and another, and another. He’s currently on his sixth audit that places the amount at a little over $6,000. He’s not buying that either, and neither do I. After all, here’s what he owes: 18 years of child support for his first son and three years for his second. Those are maximum figures of course; if he and the boys’ mother lived together prior to the entry of a child support order, he doesn’t owe for that period of time, whatever it is. Whatever the case, every penny he paid after his second son’s death should have been credited to his first son.
Given all that, I find it impossible to believe that Lional Campbell owes anything. Twenty-five years of payments for two sons, all of which should be credited to one just can’t result in a continuing debt. And of course all of the interest and fees should be removed unless somehow what he was paying for two kids managed to be less than what he owed for one.
The fact is that it should be simple to figure out. An easy cash flow analysis will give the FOC the answer in short order. Why those are such difficult concepts, I can’t guess.
That’s about all there is to say about Campbell and the FOC, but what about Mom? Campbell thought the FOC knew about the child’s death, but the FOC says it didn’t. Why there’s no procedure in Detroit whereby the Office of Vital Records informs the FOC every time a minor dies, just in case there’s a support case pending, is yet another mystery I’m unequal to solving. Suffice it to say there wasn’t.
But again, what about Mom? The answer is clear enough; while both Campbell and the FOC felt around in the dark, she took their mutual ignorance to the bank – every month for 25 years. Mom knew the second son was dead. She also knew what the child support order said, i.e. Campbell is to pay x amount for Number One Son and y amount for Number Two Son. So the very first time after the death of Number Two Son that she received the amout of x + y from the FOC, she knew something was wrong.
In short, Mom had two reasons to know she was being paid more than she was owed. She knew the child was dead and she knew how much she was to receive for Number One Son. Here’s another thing: child support orders usually include language to the effect that the recipient is to notify the court if there’s a material change in circumstances that would warrant a modification of support. But Mom didn’t do that; she opted to keep receiving and banking the extra money.
That looks very much like fraud, but whatever her legal culpability, my guess is she’ll never pay the slightest price for her blatant wrongdoing.
And that raises an issue. If Campbell tries to get any of his money back from the FOC, among other things, he’ll be told that the extra money is considered in law to be his gift to his child. At least that’s the legal fiction engaged in by some states. The obvious fact is that states, once they get the money, don’t want to give it back, so they pretend that, despite what the father says, the excess payments are a gift. I know that sounds outrageous, and it is. That’s true in no small part because in the law, one of the most basic concepts is that a gift is (a) a transference of something of value from one person to another plus (b) donative intent, i.e. the intention on the part of the giver to give a gift. Needless to say, element (b) is missing essentially every time a non-custodial parent makes an overpayment to a custodial one. But courts ignore the law so mothers won’t have to pay back overpayments made by non-custodial fathers.
I hesitate to think what they’d say if a father loaned his car to his ex. Would the court say that was hers too?
In any event, it’s clear that Lional Campbell’s ex had a duty to tell the FOC and perhaps the court that Number Two Son was dead. She didn’t do that and raked in a hefty chunk of change as a result. Will she pay a price? Don’t bet the ranch on it. Remember, this is family court where mothers get away with just about anything. If those courts don’t blink at perjury and false allegations, why would they care about 25 years of child support?