Conflicts of Interests Mar the Nebraska Child Support Commission

October 2, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Wait, there’s more! In Nebraska, the struggle for a semblance of equality in child custody outcomes and sanity in child support orders goes on… and on. In my last post on the Nebraska child support commission that’s been empaneled to study how to bring support orders in line with what children need and non-custodial parents can pay, I pointed out some of the many problems with the existing system.

Primarily, that system was established on the assumption that fathers seek any way they can think of to avoid supporting their children. What followed was a regime of laws and regulations that cut corners on due process of law in order to keep money flowing to custodial mothers and the state, often irrespective of hard realities. So child support orders are set too high – often higher than fathers can pay – and punishment for non-payment is draconian, all the way up to and including jail without access to a lawyer. What non-custodial mothers there are suffer under the same system.

Now, none of those assumptions about non-custodial fathers is true. Oh, some dads fit the description of “deadbeat,” but, as reliable research demonstrates, the overwhelming majority do not. And, as a sidelight, I’ve often wondered just how many truly deadbeat dads there would be if our culture valued fathers more. After all, from well before a child is even born, we tell the father he’s unnecessary, uninterested, useless, dangerous, feckless, incompetent and worse. Particularly if he’s one of the 40% of new fathers who aren’t married to the mother of his child, he faces an uphill climb in every aspect of trying to connect to his child. Doctors may not want him present at pre-natal appointments, hospitals may refuse to admit him to the delivery room or even tell him his child has been born. If Mom wants him out of the child’s life, she can count on plenty of help.

And that’s if he happens to know he has a child. Nowhere is there any obligation on her part to let him in on the fact – ever. If she wants to keep him in the dark for years, that’s fine with the legal system, but, having done so and she finds herself short of money, she can always name him and be treated to a huge lump sum of cash called “accrued child support” and a steady flow of same into the future. Did she choose to place the child for adoption? There’s no reason to inform the dad, at least if she’s got any sense at all. Putative father registries are closely guarded secrets and even if he registers, she can always go to another state (preferably Utah or South Carolina) to shift the child to adoptive parents without his inconvenient knowledge or consent.

I could go on long into the night listing all the ways our culture informs fathers – particularly unmarried ones – that we don’t really care about them or their value to children beyond what’s in their wallet.

So I wonder what things would look like if we took a more sensible, accurate and generous view of fathers. My guess is that a good number of the dads we’re now happy to call “deadbeats” would show a lot more interest in their kids. I mean, who wants to be just a source or money? What if those men knew they and their role as fathers would receive the honor and respect they’re due? What if they knew that, if they got divorced, they’d get a fair hearing in court and have a fair chance at getting equal custody of the child?

I suspect that fathers who were assumed to be respectable would tend to act that way. Against all the odds, even in this anti-dad culture, the vast majority do anyway.

And, speaking of anti-dad culture, that brings me back to Nebraska.

We’ve seen there that the backlash against the growing movement toward parental equality in family courts has stooped to the mendacious and the illegal to continue to marginalize fathers. Just last year saw the Nebraska State Bar lobbying illegally against a shared parenting bill and its president openly lying about the contents thereof.

That bill safely defeated, the anti-dad crowd has now moved on to oppose reform of child support guidelines, i.e. the subject of the child support commission. And it’s no surprise that there too minor considerations like ethics and good sense prove no barrier to their aim, which of course is to keep awards as high as possible. Since to them fathers are little but warm-blooded ATM machines, it makes sense to have them pay off as much as possible.

But there’s more to it that just the usual anti-father sentiments we see so often. No, here too there are nefarious doings.

Two members of the commission seem to have rather blatant conflicts of interest. That’s because both of them hold jobs that are paid by U.S. Title IV-D funds. Title IV-D, among other things, is the federal law that seeks to establish paternity for all children born out of wedlock and to make sure each is the subject of a child support order paid by Dad. And, if Mom happens to receive federal welfare benefits of some sort, say Temporary Aid to Needy Families, it’s Title IV-D that’s charged with making sure Dad reimburses the state.

Commission member William MacKenzie is the child support officer for the third largest city in the state. His office receives between 67% and 90% of its budget from Title IV-D dollars. Of course, the lower the take in child support, the fewer the federal dollars flowing from Washington to his office. So clearly, MacKenzie has a financial interest in seeing child support rates kept as high as possible. Are we surprised to learn that he’s virulently opposed to reform?

Bryan Van Patten works for the state Department of Health and Human Services where his title is – you guessed it – “Title IV-D Coordinator.” His office is funded 100% by Title IV-D dollars and he too opposes child support reform.

To those readers who perceive a conflict of interest on the part of MacKenzie and Van Patten, be of good cheer, you’re not alone. Their conflicts are as plain as day.

Now, it turns out that Nebraska, like other states, has a law prohibiting government officials from voting on any measure on which they have a conflict of interest. And that of course leads to certain obvious questions like, “Do Mackenzie and Van Patten intend to vote on whatever the commission on child support recommends?” “If they do, wouldn’t that be a violation of the state ethics law?” “And, given that they come pre-burdened by these patent conflicts of interest, what are they doing on the commission in the first place?”

Well, I think I can answer that last one myself. What they’re doing is opposing the legitimate interests of non-custodial parents. They’re resisting even the most sensible moves to shift the emphasis on NC parents from that of walking wallet to important figure in a child’s life. In short, they’re doing their utmost to keep our culture doing what it’s done for decades now – denigrating fathers and marginalizing them in the lives of their kids. And they’re doing all that just to keep the federal money flowing. Nice.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#childsupport, #conflictofinterest, #ethicsviolations, #non-custodialparents, #Nebraska

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