Nebraska Ups the Ante on Child Support Punishment

Let’s see.  First it was child support that pretty much anyone who cares about children agrees should be paid if one parent has substantially less parenting time with the child.  Children need money to live and thrive and parents have a responsibility to provide it.  That’s fair and reasonable.

But then came interest and fees.  Does a non-custodial parent fall behind on payments?  Tack on interest and fees.  In California interest alone is 10%  on unpaid support obligations.  As I’ve asked before, where else can you get that kind of return on your money?  Nowhere I know of, but the State of California thinks that non-custodial parents (overwhelmingly fathers) somehow have the ability to pay interest that no other individual, company or public entity would ever dream of paying. 

Never mind that responsible studies show that, if a parent fails to pay, it’s likely because of job loss or serious illness or accident.  In California, some 75% of all child support arrearage is interest.  It’s not unusual that a non-custodial parent will have paid all or more than he/she owes in child support, but still be in arrears due solely to interest.

Then came the purely punitive measures that call into question states’ intentions of providing for children.  Those include prison and revocation of various licenses and certificates required to get and keep employment.  So we suspend drivers’ licenses that allow parents to get to and from work.  We take away professional and trade licenses that allow parents to be hired, work and earn.

How does that assist children in getting the support they need?  Not in any way I can see.  Indeed, it seems crystal clear that the purpose of those laws is to make life as hard and downright embarrassing as possible for non-custodial parents.  Brave legislators are well known for passing laws that kick the weak when they’re down, and these look like more of the same.

But now, as this article shows, Nebraska has upped the ante a bit (NTV, 1/18/11).  

Those who fail to pay child support could soon find their names posted on a “wall of shame” on the Nebraska state treasurer’s website.

State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha introduced a bill (LB488) Tuesday for the Child Support Transparency Act. The measure would create a public list of delinquent child support obligors. The names of those owing more than $5,000 who have not made any payments for six months would be published on the Nebraska Child Support Payment Center website.

Nice.  Did tough guy Nordquist remember that we’re more than two years into the worst recession since the 1930s?  How could he forget, given that it’s in the papers every day and all over TV and radio?  But there he is impressing voters with his bold move to further humiliate non-custodial parents who’ve fallen behind.

Do some of them deserve it?  Probably so.  I don’t doubt for an instant that there are parents in Nebraska who’ll do anything to avoid supporting their children.  But Nordquist’s bill makes no effort to sort out the scofflaws from the truly desperate.  They’re all tossed into one pile and splattered across his “wall of shame.”

And that’s ironic given the fact that his bill is called the “Child Support Transparency Act.”  Of course there’s little transparent about it.  If Nordquist’s “Wall of Shame” were actually going to throw back the curtain on these people, it would tell their personal stories.  It would tell about just how they came to be so far in arrears.

But the “Wall of Shame” won’t say anything like this:  “John Smith of Lincoln has one child for whom he owes $7,000.  He hasn’t paid anything in nine months.  Mr. Smith lost his job 18 months ago and despite trying to find work hasn’t succeeded.  He now lives on the street.  The State of Nebraska has suspended his license to drive and taken away his welder’s journeyman’s license.  Mr. Smith’s bank account has $1.29 in it.”

See?  If you want transparency about child support, that’s a hint of what you’ll get.  But Nordquist and the rest of the brave Nebraska legislature don’t want that.  If people knew the truth, they might actually feel sorry for people out of work in the worst economy in decades.  They might come to see Nordquist and the rest as bullies. 

And we can’t have that, now, can we?

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