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Recently, I've posted various pieces about the many and various depredations of child support enforcement authorities. There's the spy who came in from the cold, Carol Rhodes. She used to be an employee of Michigan's child support system, but grew so disgusted by the whole thing that she's written a tell-all book. She says that, in Michigan, child support workers openly refer to dads as 'payers.' Not 'fathers,' not 'dads,' not even 'non-custodial parents,' just 'payers.' And that serves to highlight the point of the whole exercise - money. As Rhodes makes all too clear, the system is designed to earn money for the state. It does so because a percentage of all arrearages recouped by the state is reimbursed by the federal government. That used to be 66 cents on the dollar, and may still be. But the message is clear - the greater the arrearages, the greater the reimbursement. So state laws are designed to increase arrearages, establish draconian collection techniques and then rake in that sweet federal largesse. So, Rhodes tells us that motions to modify support downward by a father who's lost his job, his health or both, are discouraged by bureaucrats in the system, of whom Rhodes used to be one. They make it hard to get a hearing, sometimes setting them months in the future, during which time of course the "payer" is still out of a job or unable to work due to health reasons. And guess what keeps building up all that time. That's right, arrearages. Then there are strategies like imputation of income. So if a non-custodial parent claims to be making X amount and has documentation to that effect, a court can just rule that he's in fact earning more regardless. Often as not, that's based on some pretty shaky concepts about what he buys, what it costs, where the money came from, etc. One of the main ways of boosting arrearages though is by charging interest on them. In Massachusetts, interest on arrearages is charged at 12%, while in California it's 10%. Now tell me where you can invest your money and get a 12% return. But that's what they tack on in the Bay State. Why? Not because they expect it to be paid, but because they can create an ever-flowing river of federal money. As long as there are arrearages, there will be collections. As long as there are collections, Washington will pony up. This study gives us an idea of the impact of interest on the child support system (Urban Institute, 3/2003). Researchers for the Urban Institute compared California's child support system with that of the State of New York. As I said before, California charges obligors 10% interests on unpaid balances; New York charges no interest. When California began charging interest in 1992, its outstanding debt balance on child support orders was $2.5 billion and New York's was $1.8 billion. As of the date of the report, 2003, the figures were $17 billion and $3.2 billion. Of course variables other than interest play a role, but interest on the debt is by far the biggest one. In Australia, recently we've seen the state hiring private detectives to spy on non-custodial parents (perhaps even including mothers!). Their brief is to locate income that's not being reported. So don't worry about that guy rooting around in your trash can outside; he's from the government and he's there to help you. All of which is to say little more than what Carol Rhodes said: dads are just 'payers' - nothing more. This article makes it clear that New Zealand is not to be outdone, though (Taranaki Daily News, 5/11/10). It seems Brendan Hareb is divorced and was paying his court-ordered support right along. But then he and a neighbor confronted some teenagers who were vandalizing the neighborhood. The teens attacked and knocked Hareb unconscious. He remained in a coma for weeks, after which,
Along with a fractured skull and brain damage, Mr Hareb lost an eye, his hearing in one ear, the use of an arm and his short-term memory.
But that didn't prevent the Inland Revenue from continuing to charge him for his child support obligation and to accrue arrearages. His wife protested (after all, Hareb couldn't very well do so himself), but to no avail.
"I was fighting it while he was unconscious but there was no compassion from them," she said. "They told me he still had to pay. It was up to his ex-partner to decide if she didn't want to apply for it." Mrs Hareb, who contacted the Taranaki Daily News after reading of another couple's wrangle with red tape yesterday, said repeated calls to Inland Revenue to plead her unconscious husband's case all had the same result. "They didn't want to listen.
Supposedly, a father who's on ACC, which is New Zealand's version of disablitity benefits, isn't required to continue paying support, but it just didn't work out that way in Hareb's case. It seems the Inland Revenue neglected to inform his wife of that fact. So, when his disability checks started arriving, she started paying out of those. Hareb, however, like so many other dads, is still in arrears. I don't know about New Zealand, but here in the U.S. that's just where we like 'em. Thanks to John for the heads-up.

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