In working to reforming our current system, I meet great people on a daily basis who see unfairness.
I am not alone in this, of course.
Today’s post is from a Division of Child Support case worker in a neighboring state who has contacted me several times concerning South Dakota’s unfair custody laws. She asked to post anonymously as she believes she could lose her job if her superiors knew of her stance. So I post this, humbled she would take that risk and grateful for her insights. I believe you will be too.
This is from the front lines of child support and custody in South Dakota and neighboring states. Our anonymous writer today works with custody and child support on a daily basis.
Here is her unedited letter:
“I am a Division of Child Support Caseworker in a state bordering South Dakota. As such, I speak with other caseworkers in SD and nearly all other states in the US every day, and know there are very few options for “non-custodial” parents who are being denied equal access to their children, unless they are fortunate enough to be able to afford a long and expensive custody battle, which is extremely rare, especially in cases where the parents were never married.
While your group needs to pursue one issue at a time, your particular issue being custody and visitation arrangements after a divorce, I hope that you will also pursue shared parenting and child support arrangements for parents who were never married, as this is an issue that definitely needs to be addressed and rectified.
Before continuing, I will say that I, and all DCS caseworkers, recognize that the “non-custodial” (and we don’t like that term) parent may be the mother rather than the father. In most cases, however, the NCP is dad and the CP is mom, so please forgive my use of general terms such as “she” and “he”. I use them for the sake of simplicity, not out of a lack of respect or understanding that mothers do sometimes get the raw end of the deal, along with their children.
In every state in this country, the child support system is not only broken, but is in desperate need of repair. It is unbalanced and very often unfair. The child support calculation is based on the income of both parents, in every state, although I will admit there could be a state or two that does not do it this way and I am just not aware. In most states, if either parent is unemployed but not disabled, they are presumed to be capable of working 40 hours a week at minimum wage, so their income is imputed at $1275 per month. Following this calculation, if mom is willingly unemployed and dad is employed full time, making a mere $10 an hour, dad has a child support obligation of $357 per month for one child. (I got this number from SD’s child support calculator website and it is accurate).
Every parent, regardless of the relationship (or lack of one) that existed at the time the child was conceived, has a responsibility to provide financial support for their child. That is a fact. But, should dad, making $10 an hour really be forced to pay $357 to someone who is not willing to work? Where is mom’s responsibility in this? In these situations, mom (unless she is actually working 40 hours a week for minimum wage, which is rare), is receiving food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance, so she is sitting back, living a meager life and doing nothing to improve the lives of her children, and not having to lift a finger to do it. In the meantime, dad is working hard and still can’t afford to keep the lights on in his own home.
Most of the dads I speak to are willing to pay the child support, despite the financial stress. They understand that there is a little person out there who needs their help, and they are okay with that. In many of these cases, dad has not seen his child even once since the relationship with his child’s mother demised, and he has no recourse other than to hire a lawyer to get a visitation order. The first problem with this is that dad, making $10 an hour and paying $357 a month in child support has no money left over for to hire a lawyer. The second problem with this is that, even when he does and gets the order, mom can still deny the visitation and there will be no consequences to her for doing so. Sure, dad can take her back to court again, and the judge will tell her to behave, but if she doesn’t, nothing will happen in SD. Dad and the kids are still denied access to one another.
Approximately 2 years ago, the state of Illinois passed legislation that actually puts repercussions in place for CPs that refuse to follow the Illinois State Visitation Guidelines. If the CP denies access to the children to the NCP, her driver’s license can be restricted, and not be reinstated until she complies. What a novel idea. I am beside myself, wondering why every state has not enacted this legislation. We restrict, suspend, or revoke the driver’s licenses (and other licenses) of NCPs when they don’t pay the child support, even when they are unwillingly unemployed, yet we allow CPs to use their children as weapons against NCP, regardless of whether he is paying.
I had two office visits today, both from dads who are doing the best they can and still are being denied access to their children, simply because mom decided she doesn’t like them anymore. The first has a 5 year old daughter that he desperately wants to have a relationship with, but hasn’t been allowed to see since she was 1 year old. At least in that situation, the poor child doesn’t know what she’s missing in not being able to see her dad. The second is much more sad, and it honestly makes me very angry. Dad raised mom’s first child as his own from an infant to 4 years old. In the meantime, they had a child together. They were together for another year or two. For the next several years, dad had BOTH kids – even the one that was not his – for weekend visitation. Not enough, but at least it’s something. Then, mom decided to pull the rug out from underneath dad, with no consideration for her children. Dad has now not seen either child for a year and a half. He and mom were not married, so mom has all the power, unless he can afford an attorney, which he can not possibly afford to do.
As we sat and talked, there were several times that I could see he was struggling not to cry. Ever since mom decided (for what crazy reason no one knows) to withhold visitation, both children, and especially his biological child, have been acting out in school. They’ve been bullying other kids and being defiant to authority. His biological son was finally allowed to see his half sister (that dad had from another relationship) after being denied access to her for a long time. According to his sister, all he talked about was how much he missed his dad and how he is so happy he has all these things that his dad gave him, because it helps him remember his dad. Mom has the kid in therapy, that dad is paying for, and she is apparently oblivious to the reason why the kid needs therapy. I could tell her, but it would probably result in me being fired. Mom has 3 kids by 3 different dads and I would like to talk to her about that as well. Bottom line is mom is sitting back, collecting child support and state benefits, and not doing a damn thing to support her children, but she will be the first to call if a payment is a day late. This is just one case I am telling you about, and it’s not even the worst one; it’s just the one at the top of my mind.
The bottom line is this. We need to have state agencies that provide free services for NCPs to have fair and equal access to their children.
We already have state agencies that help people who make no contribution themselves collect child support, and we are screwing kids and NCPs in the process. That is not acceptable in any state. I hope your legislature – and mine – will figure that out. Good luck and God Bless to you and your children.
All that being said, I hope all the NCPs (I really hate that term) understand that your CS case worker is not against you. We are forced to support the order, whatever that may entail. We have no power to help you with anything else, but we really would like to. God bless and God speed to you and your children.”
In the Family Courts across this country, Judges are making ill-informed custody and visitation decisions that violate the constitutional rights of parents, mainly mothers, and children because of the lack of recognition and understanding of the dynamics of power and control in domestic violence, child abuse and sexual abuse. Consequently, children are being placed back into harm’s way at the hands of their abuser.
This phenomenon plagues family courts across the nation. It is so common it has come to be called “court imposed child abuse.” Please take a stand for our children who deserve a life free of abuse, it is their basic human right!
We request the following changes:
Require yearly training regarding domestic violence and child abuse/neglect for all of our judges, government affiliated agencies, and attorneys.
Require that each state have a regulatory board that will oversee the decisions made by our Family Courts and officials involving our children and have the ability to discipline judges and officials for misconduct.
Require any allegations of abuse or neglect to automatically suspend visitation if there is outstanding proof that the other parent or parents has/have without a doubt abused or neglected the child. Placing the child back in the abusers custody is putting the child in unnecessary danger. It is a natural (biological) and adoptive parents right to protect their child.
Require each state to reevaluate or replace the “best interest standard” giving biological and adoptive parents the Constitutionally demanded right to decide what is best for their children without interference of the courts so long as there is no evidence of abuse or neglect on the part of the parent. Maternal deprivation specifically is a serious issue revolving in our Family Courts. Our children are suffering developmentally in several aspects of their youth, in some cases even into their adulthood, because our Family Courts are ripping our children from their mothers, causing maternal deprivation in our children especially if they are under the age of five, which is seen in several psychological studies.
To name one, The Attachment Theory By: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (Sited: http://www.simplypsychology.org/Attachment%20-%20Bowlby%20%26%20Ainsworth.pdf).
Require our states to conduct DNA testing in ALL custody cases in exception to those involving adoptive parents. According to our Constitutional rights as natural (biological) parents, we should have the ability to care for and make decisions regarding the best interests of our children without the interference of any third party without evidence of abuse or neglect.
For future issues regarding paternity, require DNA testing to be done upon birth of a child in the hospital as a standard test if the parents are unwed, thus saving the burden placed upon the courts at a later date and only requiring the acknowledgement of paternity to be signed if paternity exists. Also in alternative require that if the acknowledgement of paternity needs to be signed that it should not be signed any sooner than 72 hours after any type of anesthesia or drug given during the birth/postpartum process has been given/taken. This will protect the mother’s right to making a legal decision with a sound mind. Studies show either of these would reduce the number of child custody cases requiring court involvement significantly.
It is also vital to a child’s identity to know who their parents are and the courts should have no authority to award custody to a third party unless the natural (biological) parent is found to be abusive or neglectful of their child regardless of the acknowledgement of paternity, mistakes happen. The court should also have no authority to require the natural (biological) or adoptive parents to lie to their children, it is a right as a parent to have the discretion of whether or not to disclose the truth.
Require all parents found to have abused or neglected their children to be placed in a database, displayable for example if you were to run someones drivers license number, which would be accessible to Family Court judges and Government Officials/Affiliates.
Require states to reform the Uniform Child and Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) as it is causing turmoil for many families. Granted it was created in good faith, a perfect stranger can hide with a child for 6 months and they would automatically stand to have rights to custody of a child, which also violates our rights as natural (biological) and adoptive parents.
Require judges, attorneys, and Government Officials/Affiliates to disclose publicly their affiliations with other government officials or any person of significance. For example, in my case: the other parties attorney is the senator’s daughter. The senator was once governor and appointed the judge involved in the case. The attorney was also at one point a law clerk for one of the justices in the supreme court as one of the decision making parties on our pending case and has not disclosed this fact or recused himself, which has happened on several cases apparently. There are political issues flooding our courts, which does not give a fair trial or fair orders.
Require states to appoint representation to parties involved in a child custody or abuse/neglect case if they cannot afford one.
The corruption in our family court system is sickening without a doubt. We ask the above relief out of good faith and protection of our children and families.
In summary: We, as natural (biological) and adoptive parents, should have the ability to protect our children, care for our children, and make decisions in regards to our children’s best interest without interference of any third party without evidence of abuse or neglect on our part. DNA testing is vital to a child’s identity and testing should be considered standard and conducted automatically at birth if the parents are unwed. Mothers should have the ability to make an informed legal decision, specifically not under the influence of anesthesia or drugs. The best interest standards give the courts too much power and the ability to in all essences “suspend” our constitutionally protected rights as natural (biological) and adoptive parents. Many parents cannot afford attorneys in these cases, it is a natural (biological) and adoptive parents right to have legal representation to protect themselves and their children as these cases are not insignificant and can destroy their families. Proof of abuse/neglect should not be taken lightly and should automatically suspend visitation for the child’s safety. A regulatory board should be intact to oversee the actions of the courts and should have the ability to disciple judges and officials for misconduct. Judges and other government officials/affiliates should be required yearly to attend training regarding domestic violence and child abuse/neglect. And lastly, the political connections in the court system need to be exposed publicly for our protection. A biased decision can be catastrophic to our families.
Please consider our requests as they are serious matters. Each of us have a story and children that have been subject to this court imposed abuse. We demand change!
Sierra Shattuck and Georgia Vachaviolos
Please sign our petition we need numbers to make a change!
This is a repost of the following Facebook Memo I posted on 8/28/12:
Memo To Followers:
Federal Title IVD Payments and Bonuses to States For the Collection and Administration of Child Support Payments.
Recently, I’ve been getting some queries about why I’ve been hammering so much on the issue of child support payments. And, I suspect, we’ve lost a follower or two because I’ve sort of ratcheted up the rhetoric on this topic a bit lately.
In fact, a couple of weeks a ago, we were having a discussion on this page in which I was asserting that States can receive anywhere from $1 to $2 in Federal subsidy payments for every dollar they collect and administer in child support payments. And it was during one of this discussion that one of our followers asked the simple question, “Do you have any documentation on this?”.
Well, at the…
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