Many jailed due to unrealistic child support orders

Over 2% of the US population is in jail, and many are low income parents who got behind on excessive child support orders, according to a New York Times article. For example, in Georgia, one in eight inmates is there because of unrealistic child support ordered from low income parents with fluctuating income and little ability to pay.

Unfortunately, the Connecticut judicial branch keeps such data locked away from the light of day.

The situation has gotten so bad that Vicky Turetsky, commissioner of the federal office of Child Support Enforcement is calling for reform. She says: “it’s nuts … she gets the [welfare] assistance, he gets charged the bill.”

“Parents who are truly destitute go to jail over and over again for child support debt simply because they’re poor,” said Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights, which filed a class action lawsuit in Georgia on behalf of parents incarcerated without legal representation for failure to pay. “We see many cases in which the person is released, they’re given three months to pay a large amount of money, and then if they can’t do that they’re tossed right back in the county jail.”

Walter L Scott, the black man recently shot and killed by police got behind on child support, and as a result he lost “the best job I ever had.” Then his life spiraled out of control, causing him to tussle with police before being shot in the back.

Read more at http://nyti.ms/1yJelpe

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Even Abused Foster Children Do Not Reject a Parent

By Linda J. Gottlieb Kase, LMFT, LCSW-r

March 18, 2015

Research Observation:

Despite the abuse and neglect suffered by the 3000 foster care children who had been under my care, it was extremely uncommon for those children to refuse contact with a parent—even with an overtly abusive parent. Rather, abused children tend to protect and cling to the abusive parent. Moreover, in the rare cases in which that did appear to happen, there was always some evidence of indoctrination or programming (typically by foster parents who had the surreptitious goal of adopting the child).  Thus, it is counter-instinctual for a child to reject a parent—even an abusive parent.  When a professional observes a child strongly reject a parent in the absence of verified abuse, neglect or markedly deficient parenting skills—which should never be assumed based on the child’s self-reporting—one of the first thoughts should be that the other parent is an alienator.  Moreover, one should never assume that, because a child has rejected a parent, the parent must have done something to warrant it.

Having observed thousands of genuinely-abused children during a period of 24 years, I have concluded that a child’s innate desire to have a relationship with his or her parents is one of the most powerful of human instincts, surpassed only by the instinct for survival and the instinct to protect ones young; among normal children, in the absence of an alienating influence, that instinct is seldom suppressed because a parent exhibits relatively minor flaws, deficiencies, or idiosyncrasies.

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Testimony Supports Less Need for Court Ordered Professionals

The SPC advocates amendments to Connecticut’s HB 5505 to reduce conflict by giving each parent an incentive to support the other parents. This implements CT’s 2005 law – other states (MA, MD and others) are implementing shared parenting. Here are the proposed amendments:

Purpose: establishing the presumption of behavior encouraging parental involvement

Sec. 4. Section 46b-56 of the general statutes is amended by adding subsection (j) as follows (Effective October 1, 2015):

(new) (j) In cases involving an existing Parental Responsibility Plan (PRP), or any existing custodial order, statutory factors (6) and (7) of Conn. Gen. Sats 46b-56(c ) shall determine the resolution of any dispute. A pattern of noncompliance with existing custodial orders, or with an existing PRP provides evidence of unwillingness to foster a good parent-child relationship (violation of factor 6) and/or manipulative or coercive behavior (factor 7). Such pattern of noncompliance will result in a finding in favor of the other  parent.

Note: the relevant factors:

(6) the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage such continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent as is appropriate, including compliance with any court orders;

(7) any manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute.

Rationale: to reduce litigation by establishing the primary role of behavior fostering a good relationship with the other parent.

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Why is only one parent presumed to be competent to make spending decisions on behalf of children?

Connecticut’s Commission for Child Support Guidelines has been meeting for over four years without seriously considering this issue or even proposing any revision to the Guidelines. They have ignored substantial evidence showing that Guidelines should be revised to reflect shared parenting. They have ignored shared parenting Guidelines adopted in Massachusetts in 2013.

Should the legislature intervene now that the process is clearly broken?

Comment on this issue by clicking “leave a response” below.

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Government Agencies Deal with Excessive Child Support Orders

On Friday, June 27, 2014, Connecticut’s Department of Social Services (DSS) sponsored a one-day conference. This conference focused on the relationship between child support and effective parenting. It emphasized the importance of co-parenting and of father involvement with their children. The judicial branch, Support Enforcement Services (Charisse Hutton) and Family Support Magistrates Division (Norma Sanchez-Figueroa) emphasized the importance of parental involvement and the negative influence of excessive support orders.

  • The keynote speaker was Vicki Turetski, Commissioner, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement.
    • She emphasized that regular child support payments increase with parental involvement.
    • She lauded the Fatherhood Initiative, a federal program that began in 2000.

Brief Summary of Conference Themes
The themes of the conference centered on the connection between parental involvement and financial support for children living with one parent. Even in cases with past domestic violence, a structured program and a commitment to change behavior can lead to successful co-parenting. There was general agreement that parental time and decision making responsibility are at least as important as child support dollars. The dollars can interfere with parental involvement when support orders are unrealistic or when arrearages build up due to illness, unemployment of incarceration. The conference proposed specific remedies such as in-kind child support payments and easy ways to reduce support orders after illness or unemployment. Child Support Guidelines in Connecticut are unrealistic at low income levels, but currently the Commission has failed to appreciate the damage this does.

Possible conclusions with respect to root causes of excessively high child support orders
The root cause of the problem addressed by the Conference is, in my opinion, the economic studies used to justify excessively high support orders. The studies are flawed in many ways, including: 1) The assumption that percentages should be based on an intact family; 2) the assumption that only one parent, the “custodial parent,” is capable of making financial decisions on behalf of children.

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Are child support orders unreasonably high?

A 2013 economic study by Sarro and Rogers provides some new thinking and new data. See: Mark A. Sarro and R. Mark Rogers, “Economic Review of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines,” submitted to the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force (June, 2013). Here are some key points from that study:
 “Most states base their child support guidelines, to some extent, on specific economic studies. However, the most widely used studies do not measure actual direct spending on children and are based on national data. Most child costs are not directly observable, but rather are indirect costs shared by adults and children in a household, such as housing and food. Therefore, the available economic data are estimates with theoretical and practical limitations, and the resulting child cost estimates are informative and important to consider, but they are not determinative.” p 1
 “There simply is not a definitive source of data to dictate whether the resulting Guidelines amounts are right or wrong with certainty and in every case. This is why presumptive awards are rebuttable, based on case specific facts that diverge from presumptive facts. The rest of this report summarizes the economic principles, approaches, and most current data available to help inform the Task Force’s review of the current Guidelines.” p. 13
 Income Shares estimates, such as the Betson-Rothbarth amounts, also rely on data from intact (specifically, husband-wife) households to inform policy decisions for households which are not intact. These guideline models implicitly assume economic decisions are made the same way for separate households as for married households, when, in fact, the economic tradeoffs may be very different. One obvious difference is the additional overhead cost required by two separate households relative to the cost of a single household. By failing to account for this additional cost, economic models likely overestimate the standard of living of a non-intact household at a given income level. Maintaining a standard of living estimated based on intact household data likely requires more income than is actually available to a non-intact household.” pp 19-20. Sarro and Rogers show that shared parenting implies higher fixed costs associated with maintaining two households, and that intact families would adjust to such costs.
 Sarro and Rogers (2013) produce detailed data – based on a large random sampling of support orders from several districts within Massachusetts – showing that a large percentage of couples agree to amounts far below Guidelines. These new data raise questions: why any state adopts Guidelines that many consider unreasonable? Why is only one parent presumed to be competent to make spending decisions on behalf of children?

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Connecticut’s legislature votes no confidence in the family court system

On Friday, April 25, 2014, both houses of Connecticut’s legislature unanimously approved a bill that restricts judges in family court matters. Parent who have been unfairly denied access to their children and bankrupted by the court turned out in large numbers to testify in favor of the legislation. Given that judges and divorce lawyers fought hard against the measure, this can only be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the way family court operates today in Connecticut.
The bill passed on April 25 deals with technical issues associated with the court appointed Guardians Ad Litem (GALs). The issues generating the no confidence vote centered on:
1. Poor training. GALs require only 30 hours of training. No law degree, no study of child behavior, no other experience with children.
2. No accountability. As a practical matter, parents paying the bills could not fire the GAL! And, GALs have immunity from law suits.
3. Some GAL’s had few meetings with children and refused to meet with those intimately involved with the children’s lives.
4. Excessive pay. Hourly rates were reported in the $200-$850 range and some total billings were in excess of $20,000 per year. Some testimony suggested that GALs are more interested in the pay than in the welfare of children. Parents can be jailed for failure to pay GALs.
5. In some cases, getting a high paying GAL assignment required a cozy relationship with an attorney representing one side of the custody case.
The legislation that will take effect in October, SB 494, addresses most of the complaints listed above. Specifically, it allows parents to agree on a GAL or an attorney for the minor child (AMC) from a list of fifteen candidates proposed by the judge. If they can’t agree, and the judge appoints a GAL, then this decision is appealable. Most importantly, the judge is required, within 21 days, to issue an order clarifying the work to be done by the GAL or AMC, to set forth the fee schedule and to set deadlines on the completion of that work.
This increase in transparency strongly discourages a cozy money-making relationship between GAL’s and others in the court system. A judge needs to refer to one or more of 16 factors defining the “best interests of the child” when appointing a GAL/AMC and the GAL/AMC will be accountable for using these 16 factors when they represent a child.
Is this real reform or is it an effort to appease advocates for reform? We believe that it represents an important first step towards reform, and that it signals a new direction in the relationship between the legislature and family court officials. For one thing, the judiciary tried to head off the legislation by promising internal court reforms. For another, judges and court insiders lobbied hard to prevent any legislative interference with their activities. Thirdly, “John McKinney, the Republican leader of the state Senate said the bill is a modest first step towards fixing a system ‘that has fallen apart’ (Hartford Courant, Saturday, April 29, 2014, page B4).” Finally, the unanimous vote in a legislature where many members are lawyers provides a compelling indication that family court system must change.
Those advocating for reform include a large, vocal group of parents, grandparents and families known as the Coalition for Connecticut Family Court Reform. Jennifer Verraneault, a GAL based in New Haven and member of a task force studying the issue, has emerged as the leader of this group. Two formally organized groups support broad reforms designed to reduce conflict in custody cases and increase involvement of both parents unless there is evidence of abuse or neglect: the Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut (SPC) and the National Parents Organization (NPO).
Rep. Gonzalez embraced the need for family court reform, even at the beginning of the process when she was ridiculed as a radical. After the unanimous vote, senators and representatives thanked Rep. Gonzalez for not giving up on the legislation. Congratulations and hugs rewarded her hard work and dedication to the legislation.
This legislation points towards a sea change in Connecticut family law. For the first time, the legislature has substantially restricted the actions of family court judges, imposing specific limits on how they act. Prior to this, judges had broad latitude to determine vaguely defined “best interests of the child,” and this often resulted in marginalizing one parent, as well as fostering greater legal dispute. A small change embedded in the new legislation may have broad consequences: in any case, even one not involving a GAL or AMC, judges are now required to articulate which of the 16 factors (or possibly some other consideration) they use when determining the best interests of the child.
A new direction was set by the Connecticut legislature on April 25, but much work still needs to be done to ensure that children are not arbitrarily deprived of access to a capable parent, or disadvantaged financially by the excessive cost of a custody dispute. The SPC and NPO have expressed a willingness to meet with family court officials to hammer out further improvements in the family court system.

The full text of SB 494 can be found at: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/amd/S/2014SB-00494-R00SA-AMD.htm

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Lobby the Connecticut legislature to stop parental alienation

We want to sponsor legislation in January 2013 for the presumption of equal parenting time and to penalize alienating behavior. If you support this idea, leave a comment by clicking on this post.

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Recognize the signs of parental alientation

An expert on parent-child relationships and author of the book “Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties that Bind” testified in New Haven court according to The New Haven Register on September 12,2012.  Here are some of the signs that you or someone you love is being alienated from their children:

  • constant negative comments by the parent about the other one;
  • exaggerating or manufacturing that parent’s flaws;
  • telling the kids lies such as the other parent is “unsafe, unloving and unavailable”;
  • not allowing photos of the parent in the house; not allowing the parent to be talked about
  • and withholding from that parent information on the kids’ sports activities and
    other aspects of their lives.

The full article is at: http://nhregister.com/articles/2012/09/11/news/doc504fbf3ce9916764634059.txt?viewmode=fullstory

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