Friday, April 9, 2010

Wanna Get Married and/or Have Kids?

Thread at Happy Bachelors Forum

This is taken from pages 143-146 in the book ‘Taken into Custody’, the chapter is called Deadbeat Dads or Plundered Pops?, and the subchapter is called For the Children?

Any incentive to reward the mother for bringing another family under the control of the judicial machinery is fair game for the judge to order at the father’s expense. Though ostensibly limited by statutory guide lines, in practice a judge is free to order virtually any amount in child support. A judge who decides, on nothing more than his own opinion, that a father could or should be earning more he does can (and frequently does) “impute” potential income to the father and assess child support and legal fees based on that hypothetical income. The result is that child-support payments may exceed what the father earns. In Wilmington, North Carolina, a disabled veteran was ordered to pay $22 more each month than he earns. In Canada, a child and spousal support award of $3150 was imposed on a father who was clearing $3400. When he fell behind, authorities suspended his driver’s license. “They removed my ability to earn the very money I was paying them”.

As the other end of the income spread is “Michael,” ordered to pay $7153 monthly, or 96 percent of his salary. In figuring his monthly salary the court included one-time and occasional items such as severance pay and bonuses. Michael was left with $302 to live on. He lives on borrowed money, and if he goes bankrupt he will lose his license and job as a certified public accountant. “It’s 100% percent as a result of this divorce,” he says, a divorce which he gave neither grounds or consent. “Her only issue is I never spent enough time with her” By court order, his former wife receives $85,836 a year tax-free from him, roughly equivalent to a fully taxable salary of $125,000 a year, according to Donna Laframboise, who wrote a series for the National Post shortly before being dismissed from the newspaper.

Even more crushing, though Michael has only occasionally fallen behind, his children are apparently being encouraged to think of him as a deadbeat. “I talked to my sixteen-year-old when [a Toronto Star article on deadbeat dads] came out. You know what he said to me? He said, Dad, did you read that article in the Star? Well that’s what I think of you.’” Laframboise, whose investigation was not challenged or refuted, found that “stories are remarkable similar across the income spectrum” and furnishes these examples:

In 1997, Denis McKenzie, a Winnipeg postal worker with a take-home pay of $1,900 monthly, was ordered to pay $2000 in child and spousal support.

Wayne Archer, a firefighter living in Caledon, Ontario, says that a 1991 child-support order for $750 a month for his son “represented 91 percent of my net pay at the time. . . . In desperation, I bought a camper and put it on the back of my pickup truck.”

Dr. Robert Wright, a British Columbia dentist, fled the country after serving jail time for failing to pay alimony. Although his payments of $900 a month for child support were up to date, Wright ceased paying the monthly $2,500 in spousal support when he was certified as bankrupt. The judge rejected this claim as evidence and sent him to jail for sixty days.

As Michael’s case illustrates, if a father at any point works any extra hours (perhaps to pay child support or legal fees) or receives any other temporary income, he is then locked into that imputed income and those overtime hours, and the child-support level based on them, until his children are grown. In the case of Denis McKenzie, the judge determining the postal worker’s income “added additional income he would earn if he delivered extra flyers-thus turning an option of earning money into an obligation.” Fathers like Chris Roney of Urbana, Illinois, are ordered to meet their payments by taking out loans, which are then treated as income in setting their payment level. According to his attorney, money borrowed to pay attorneys’ fees was considered “income” in assessing his level of child support, about $1400 monthly as of this writing.

If a relative or benefactor pays the child support on behalf of the father that payment is considered a “gift” and does not offset the obligation, which the father himself still owes. If the payment is made to the father it becomes “income,” which can then be used to increase the amount of the father’s imputed earning capacity and with it his monthly obligation. Guidelines are formulated “with no consideration for payroll deductions for federal and state income tax, Social Security, mandatory insurance contributions.” The non custodial parent pays all taxes on the money before it is sent to the custodial parent, but all tax deductions and benefits go to the custodial parent alone, as if she were supporting the children herself.

Custodial parents are not required to spend child support on the children, and—unlike any other government-mandated financial transfer—they are not required to account to either the non-custodial parent or the court for how they spend it. “Dads must pay, but moms are free to squander the money,” writes attorney David Butler. “If it is absolutely in the best interests of the children to require that support be paid for them, then why should we not also require that the money be spent by them?”

Judges are not even the only ones who can set or raise a child-support obligation. Civil servants can and do arbitrarily increase the child-support obligations of the parents they pursue, sometimes without even informing the obligor. Attorney Tindall was arrested and jailed with no warning when he knew his payments were current. “I found out later that some FOC employee had just upped my support,” he told Michigan Lawyers Weekly. “There was no order from a judge. They just did it. In court, they admitted that they do this all the time.”

In addition to the regular child support, fathers are forced to pay “add-ons,” which in most cases include all medical and dental premiums, out-of-pocket medical and dental costs, day care, and extra-curricular activities. Yet there is no precise legal definition of what constitutes a legitimate add-on. “The case law itself is talking completely contradictory views,” reads one report. By most formulas these costs are already figured in the basic child support, so the father pays twice. Manny add-ons do not even benefit the children but are for costs such as day care, so the children can be stored in an institution against a father’s wishes even when he is available and willing to look after them himself.

Edward Kruk, a social work professor at the University of British Columbia, says the add-ons result in the non-custodial parent ordered to pay twice the guideline amount or more. “With preschool children, a lot of dads who are asking for parenting time with their kids are being denied and the kids are ending up in a day-care setting that fathers then have to pay for as special expenses,” he says. “Everyone says child support is about feeding the children,” says Mike LeBerge, president of the Calgary chapter of the Equitable Child Maintenance and Access Society, “but it’s not.” One father is ordered to pay add-ons including $600 a month for skating lessons, $80 for music lessons, and $150 a month for cheerleading lessons.”