Thursday, September 7, 2006

Family Courts vs. Non-Custodial Parents

Once again, the radio has proven to be a source of blogging material for me. The other night I was listening to the Rollye James show and she was talking about horror stories in reference to non-custodial parents dealing with the Family Court system. Please bear in mind that I didn't get to hear the entire show and I encountered it already in progress, so any inaccuracies that follow are because of this.

One fact I found rather chilling is that divorcing parents may not make private arrangments as to child support and visitation, no matter how amicable the breakup and willingness of both parents to cooperate. State involvement is mandatory, as support and visitation are determined by a judge when hearing the divorce case. Child support is not paid directly to the custodial parent; one must pay to the state, who then distributes it to the custodial parent.

I'm guessing that never-married parents may be able to slip under this radar as long as their private arrangements remain voluntary and amicable, but if there's any sort of dispute whatsoever, then they, too, get sucked into the state system, who will make the decisions from then on.

In some states, the amount of support the non-custodial parent must pay bears no relation to their actual income or ability to pay, however willing they may be. In such cases, even a non-custodial parent who wants to pay child support, but within their practical means, inevitably becomes deliquent and is grouped with and punished along with the truly deadbeat parents.

Rollye mentioned some of the punishments meted out to those who are deliquent in their payments; focusing on states that revoke a non-custodial parent's driver's license and/or put them in jail.

Such laws in no way fit the crime, nor help the children that child support was intended to benefit. In most places in the US, if a person cannot drive, they cannot get to work. So, losing one's license = losing one's job. The same is true about going to jail.

Maybe I'm dense, but I don't see how causing the non-custodial parent to lose their job and making it almost impossible to find another job benefits their children in any way. To pay child support, a parent needs to be MAKING MONEY.

When I was divorced, and got custody of my son by default, there was no visitation and no child support. It worked for me and I was able to do this without government interference. In many other families, people are able to make their own arrangements amicably enough for support and visitation. For families who aren't able to do that, the Family Court needs to devise more common sense rules where the focus is on the child and their best interests, rather than punishing the noncomplying parent with laws that hamper their ability to comply.

Rollye also told a particularly horrific story involving unmarried parents that I wish was an urban legend. This case involved a woman, a nurse or a doctor, who had performed oral sex on a man at the doctor's office. The woman saved the used condom (who has oral sex with a condom on, anyway?) and inseminated herself with the contents and had a baby without the man's knowledge. Two years later, she decides she wants child support, and, amazingly, the court rules in her favor and the man, who never even penetrated her, must pay child support. Unbelievable.

I don't have any practical solutions to this mess, but the Family Court system is "broken", to use Rollye's words, and is in need of a major overhaul.


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