“‘For one divorced father of four…the crumbling economy has had consequences beyond the emotional and financial. “His $1,400 weekly support payments, plus additional expenses like health insurance and tuition, had been based on a court judgment in 2007. “The man works for a realty business, and since the real estate market has frozen, his income has plummeted. Earlier this year he fell $23,000 behind in what he owed, including attorney’s fees to his ex-wife’s lawyer. With his modification petition still pending, he was handcuffed in court and put in jail for 30 days…
“‘Of the 45 guys I was in jail with,” he said, “12 to 14 were probate cases. So I know I’m not alone.'” Joseph P. Kahn’s front page story Amid layoffs, child support pacts fraying: Stressed-out parents ask family court for help, relief (Boston Globe, 4/13/09) details the problems faced by child support obligors in the face a bad economy. It is not uncommon for decent, loving fathers like the Fathers & Families supporter quoted above to be punished or even thrown in jail simply because they can no longer earn enough money to pay the child support the family law system demands. We suggest that you thoughtfully and responsibly:
1) Write a Letter to the Editor of the Boston Globe by clicking firstname.lastname@example.org or using their online form here. The shorter the letter, the better chance it has of being published. 2) Comment on the story on the Globe website by clicking here. 3) Commend reporter Joseph P. Kahn for bringing attention to this important issue—his email is email@example.com
Kahn also writes:
The chief justice of the Probate and Family Court, Paula Carey, concurs, noting that contempt citations have risen sharply in recent months as more litigants have fallen behind on their obligations, whether employed or not. Carey is particularly concerned about those who represent themselves in court, either because they can’t afford an attorney or because they believe they can be their own best advocate. “Many don’t understand that if they lose their jobs, they need to come back right away and get [the divorce agreement] modified,” said Carey. Otherwise, she said, they’re already in trouble because child-support modifications are not retroactive to the date a job was lost or a similar change in financial circumstances. Carey chaired a 12-member task force that reviewed the state guidelines over a two-year period beginning in October 2006. Under federal law, states must update their guidelines, which apply to married and nonmarried parents alike, every four years. Spelled out in the new guidelines are a recognition that healthcare coverage is vitally important to children’s welfare and a commitment to streamlining the process by which adjustments are made. The guidelines establish minimum payments, set at $80 a month, but do not cap them at the high end. The revamped guidelines already face a stiff legal challenge, however, another reflection of tough economic times. This afternoon, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Linda Giles is scheduled to hear a lawsuit filed by the Boston-based nonprofit Fathers and Families. The group contends that the guidelines unfairly burden noncustodial parents financially and were unconstitutionally implemented by the courts, not the state Legislature. According to the lawsuit, the new guidelines sometimes double or even triple the support levels previously mandated, causing further stress on splintered families. “We do the best we can to make sure that kids at least get the basics,” said Carey, defending the current system. “That’s not always easy to do, especially at lower income levels.” But, she said, “All of us understand that when someone loses a job, there’s a tendency to crawl into a hole – and they shouldn’t. We want to help them.”
Read the full article here.