‘Motherhood Card’ Played in Child Support and Contempt Cases

It turns out that motherhood isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card.  Neither is it a reason to not pay child support.  As Pokey Prothro once said, “who’da thunk it?” This article tells us about a mother in British Columbia who had two children with her common-law husband (Vancouver Sun, 9/23/11).  They separated and at first she had custody and he paid support.  But that arrangement got reversed for reasons the article doesn’t explain, with him getting full custody of both kids. 
He petitioned the court for her to pay child support and the court duly made the order. But the mother, who’s a veterinarian, married and moved to the United States.  She had another child and her obligation to support her first two was suspended for 15 months.  She had a second child and the same thing happened, but the dad appealed the order. The appellate court in British Columbia ruled that Mom needs to keep supporting her children stating that her evidence for not doing so was insufficient.  Apparently that evidence consisted solely of the fact that she had two other children by her husband.  Why she believed that having two younger children would relieve her of her obligation to support her older two is a mystery that the article doesn’t solve. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting legal claim on her part.  If a mother has more children, should that mean she needn’t support previous ones?  That’s not even remotely viable as a legal argument and it certainly doesn’t apply to non-custodial dads. But a similar argument was advanced in this case (ABC News 7, 8/30/11). Catherine Keske is a professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.  She’s divorced from her husband Jeffrey Handley and their continuing squabbles over custody and support are byzantine in their complexity.  But suffice it to say that Keske has custody and Handley visitation.  Now, that may change because the latest claim is that their 13-year-old son doesn’t want anything to do with his mother.  But meanwhile, and apparently for a long time, Keske has been actively interfering in Handley’s parenting time.  So he asked the court to sanction her and lo and behold, it did!  One magistrate ordered her to jail for 90 days and she was duly taken away.  Oddly, two days later, another magistrate ordered Keske released, only to have the original magistrate order her back inside. All of that is strange enough.  I’ve commented many times on the unwillingness of family courts to punish custodial mothers who deny visitation to non-custodial fathers.  It’s one of the worst aspects of the family court system that it resorts to the most draconian measures -including jailing indigent dads – to enforce payment of child support but gives a pass to mothers who flout visitation orders. So it’s a huge surprise to see a court actually punish a mother for keeping a child from its father.  I guess Keske was surprised too; here’s her response:

“I have a special needs child,” Keske told the newspaper. “My 10-year-old son needs me. I am a productive taxpayer and am training students for productive careers. Any incarceration disrupts my job…”

She also has a husband who, one assumes, is fully capable of caring for their children while she’s wearing a blue jumpsuit and flip-flops.  But more importantly, just imagine a father making that claim.  “Hey judge, you can’t jail me; I’ve got a job and kids!”  The very idea is ludicrous, but here’s a woman with a Ph.D making the claim, apparently with a straight face. Maybe she knew what she was talking about, because the latest news is that Keske was once again freed from jail after a mere four days. In this country, we’re hesitant to jail women.  Rigorous studies show that, compared to men, women receive far more lenient sentences, all things being equal.  And just over a year ago, the State of Oklahoma considered cutting costs by freeing non-violent inmates, with only female inmates qualifying for the amnesty.  I pointed out at the time that, since there were so many more male inmates than female ones, they’d save a lot more by releasing men, or better yet, both sexes.  What struck me about the proposal was that its misandric zeal actually thwarted its purpose. And of course the unwillingness to jail women plays out most importantly in family courts.  Judges don’t want to punish women, particularly mothers, and the unsurprising result is that mothers are able to level false charges of abuse against fathers, ignore visitation rights, etc.  Apparently the motherhood card isn’t good enough to avoid paying child support, but it seems to still be sufficient to keep a female contemnor from paying for her contempt.

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