July 30, 2014
By Don Hubin, PhD, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio
The Federal Office of Child Support and the various state and county child support enforcement agencies were created to try to solve a problem of children who are not being supported by their parents. In part out of a tendency to vilify fathers as feckless, irresponsible ne’re-do-wells and in part from legislative and bureaucratic incompetence, the system often causes problems where they would not otherwise exist.
The case of Terri and Nick Viltrakis, that I wrote about earlier, is an example. Terri and Nick separated in June of 2013. From all appearances, they handled their separation in a mature responsible way. They both seemed to want to focus on what was best for their daughter, Vivian. From the time of their separation, Nick gave money to Terri to help with her expenses and those for Vivian. In fact, they settled all the issues of their separation and divorce between themselves.
That’s when they heard, from Ohio’s family courts and child support system, what Ronald Reagan once called the scariest nine words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
It turns out that, as far as the court and child support system was concerned, it was not okay for them to handle the child support transfer payments (the amount one parent pays the other to assist with child expenses) between themselves. Nick was immediately a deadbeat in the eyes of the government because he wasn’t paying through the child support system. The Child Support Enforcement Agency was prepared to turn his case over to collections despite the fact that he’d been supporting his child all along. Terri and Nick agreed about this; it was only the court and the child support bureaucracy that didn’t recognize the support he’d been giving—and they didn’t see it because it didn’t pass through their (sticky) hands.
With the attention of the media, and the concern by the child support agency that this wasn’t a good story for them, the (non-existent) child support arrearage has finally been erased, though even achieving that modest goal involved overcoming some bureaucratic bungles.
The story’s not over, though. The court has ordered a larger child support transfer payment from Nick to Terri than Nick and Terri think is appropriate. Nick and Terri are now put in a position where they have to convince the court that they know how to raise the child they created together and both love.
When fit parents agree on the terms of a divorce, custodial arrangements, and child support transfer payments courts and government agencies should defer, absent a showing that the agreement would be detrimental to the children.
Indeed, this is what is legally required in light of the Supreme Court’s repeated insistence the parental rights are fundamental constitutional rights. As such, they can be interfered with by the courts only when there is a compelling state interest at stake which cannot be realized without such interference. In the Viltrakis case, there is no such interest.
Here is (some of) Nick’s story in his own words. Nick closes his comments by inviting readers to draw their own conclusions. Here’s one that’s pretty obvious: Courts and governmental agencies must defer to the decisions of fit and loving parents. Their job is to assist parents, not to create bureaucratic hurdles for parents.
By Nicholas Viltrakis, Member, National Parents Organization of Ohio
So I guess that I'm an idealist. Call me crazy but when I was getting divorced I thought it would be more civic minded to resolve my own issues of law whenever possible instead of tying up and relying on an overburdened court system paid for by our taxes. Silly me.
My ex-wife and I had to split. No one liked it, but there we were. So after deciding that we should separate, I voluntarily began to give my future ex enough money to not default on the mortgage, to have a decent life, and take care of my beautiful daughter. This was June of 2013.
I continued to give my ex-wife this money throughout our separation and through the subsequent divorce process. And then we had our court date, in February of 2014. A mere formality, we thought. We both agreed on everything and believed that the system was in place to make the well-being of our daughter the highest priority.
However, at that point the court decided to back-date the child support arrears to the arbitrary date of January 1, 2014—6 months after the split. So "no big problem" I thought. Right? My ex needed the money and I needed to make sure my daughter was taken care of regardless of the duration of paperwork, right? I had paid the ex money during our lengthy wait for the court date and they can't fault me for not supporting my daughter in the meantime! I would have had to have a premonition about when they would backdate the child support arrears to and then stop paying my ex on that date knowing that they would "need" to tax it for my child's benefit. After all the organization was called the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) and I was compliant!! Right?
Yea, well, I got that paperwork about two months after they started taking an additional amount out of my weekly paychecks, which didn't go unnoticed. So when I found the "arrears forgiveness" procedure on the ODJFS website and requested the paperwork be mailed to me via phone message (because they aren't willing to email it) I figured this would be resolved shortly and waited. (The website states 2 day return policy.)
Seventeen days after I requested the paperwork to clear up this simple misunderstanding that the government has an arrears forgiveness policy to address, I receive a letter stating that even though I have had my paycheck subjected to additional withholdings for two months and even though I've initiated the government's own procedure for the correction of their lagging paperwork caused situation, I’ll be sent to collections for not paying the balance in full!
Needless to say I contacted the county office. After some serious conversations with peon-level people who followed orders with the affect and dedication of the early 40s German SS, I managed to awaken two separate individuals to say, "Morally I agree with you; you took care of your daughter. But there's nothing we can do. This is the way our system works." After that I contacted the media.
I had no idea what else to do, but I knew that what was happening was wrong.
After my media contact and reaching out to the county PR man, the wheels where greased. All of a sudden, people started putting two and two together. A comedy of errors was being exposed. "Blah blah blah happened and he blah blah blah... 'there's no story here'" was shouted over speakerphone.
Nine more days later I emailed the media personality and informed him that nothing had happened. Later that day the county called my compliant ex and asked, "Did you receive the paper work?" "No," she stated. And they were befuddled. I suggested they email the form and we could all be assured right away. After much grumbling, they acquiesced. Forty-five minutes later, the signed and notarized paperwork was back in the mail.
A shocking nine days of no information after that a further email to the new reporter yielded another callback from the county that told me my arrears forgiveness was approved a week or so ago.
The lady walked it down herself.
And there you have it. Draw your own conclusion from my story.