August is Child Support Awareness Month, so let’s all be aware of child support, shall we? Yes, let’s. Now, to be aware of child support, one might read this article or one similar (This Week News, 8/11/18). After all, it’s Child Support Awareness Month, so there are plenty of articles on the subject. But if you do, don’t figure you know all there is on the subject. You don’t. Indeed, the linked-to piece and the others tend to avoid mentioning many salient (and often uncomfortable) facts about child support.
Maternity is established through the mother giving birth. Paternity is established several ways.
Or, stated another way, Mom gets her parental rights via her biology, but Dad, unless he’s married to Mom, must do more. He can sign an acknowledgement of paternity form at the hospital, but if he does and he’s not the dad, he may be stuck paying for a child who’s not his. Of course if we simply utilized the technology we’ve had available for the past 35 years and tested the child’s DNA at birth, we’d all know who Dad is and who he isn’t, and he wouldn’t have to jump through legal hoops to either prove or disprove his paternity. We currently subject newborns to a welter of tests, but not that one.
The amount of support a parent must pay is determined by using the “Ohio Child Support Guidelines.” Both parents must provide verification of their incomes or provide their most recent income tax returns.
To learn the many deficiencies of the Ohio guidelines, please read Don Hubin’s blog here.
As to Dad’s income, the process can get a lot more complicated than the article suggests. After all, if Dad just got laid off, injured and is unable to work, took early retirement, quit one career and begun re-training for another, etc., his actual income will be ignored by the court. He’ll be assumed to be doing nothing but trying to reduce his child support obligation. So the court will impute income to him. It’ll do that by looking at what he’s made in the past, when he hadn’t been laid off, wasn’t injured, etc., and set his support based on that. Never mind that he’s not earning that much, never mind that he’ll immediately fall behind, possibly lose his house, his driver’s license, various occupational licenses, go to prison, etc. “Verify” your income all you want, but the purpose of child support is to make you pay as much as possible and often more.
Does the article mention that, in establishing paternity, it may not matter whether Mr. X is the actual dad or not. If the state enforcement agency sends its notice of hearing to the wrong man or the wrong address and Mr. X doesn’t appear, he may be tagged with supporting a child who’s not his. Due process of law is tissue-thin in child support court.
Does the article mention that, if Dad falls behind and is threatened with jail, his “hearing” in which he’s supposed to convince a judge of his inability to pay may last only five minutes or even less? Nope. If Dad’s not well educated and is unable to understand what the system demands of him, his chances of going to jail are much higher than not. Child support courts process fathers like so much meat on a conveyor belt. It begins in court and ends in jail and the journey from the one to the other is short.
Does the article mention that there is no obligation anywhere that “child support” be used to, you know, support the child? No. Many a father has complained that he pays on time and in full, but when he visits with little Andy or Jenny, the child is underfed, dirty and badly dressed. Meanwhile it doesn’t look like Mom’s alcohol habit has much decreased. Dad begins to suspect that his money is going not to the child, but to the liquor store on the corner and he’s probably right, but the system allows him no avenue to seek justice. His job is to pay; once he’s done that, the child support system cares not a bit about what Mom does with the dough.
That’s true despite the fact that it would be simple enough to ensure that Dad’s money actually goes to support his child. We could treat child support like food stamps, i.e. limit it to items pre-determined to be either for the child, like diapers, or things like food that can be used by or for a child. Mom could then receive a debit card for an account that Dad would fund. Dad would have access to the records of expenditures made out of that account. In that way, he would know that Mom was using his money for the child and not her boyfriend, her heroin habit, her gambling addiction, etc. We could do such a thing, but we don’t.
Does the article mention the federal government’s massive funding for child support enforcement or its massive failure to fund Dad’s visitation rights? Again, no. Does it mention that, if it supported non-residential fathers even half as much as it does custodial mothers, that fathers would be far more inclined to pay than they are now? It’s pretty certain that enforcing visitation tends to beget enforcement of child support, but Washington would rather fall on its sword than assist fathers, even if it means making child support enforcement harder, less efficient and more expensive.
What about the apparent anti-father bias in awarding child support? No, the article didn’t get around to that. But for decades now, a vastly lower percentage of fathers with custody than mothers receive a child support order from a judge. The fact that mothers are generally less likely to pay than are fathers also goes unmentioned.
Yes, child support is quite the complex and interesting topic. So by all means, this August, let’s all become aware of the realities of our child support system. Just don’t rely on the usual boilerplate articles to tell you any but a very sanitized version of the truth.