Background: In my co-authored column, Servicemen victimized by child support system (World Net Daily, 6/27/07), I discuss the ways the child support enforcement system victimizes innocent citizens, particularly military personnel. I wrote:
“Many men – particularly those in the military – are targets of abusive child support enforcement practices. While states receive federal funds for every child support dollar they collect, there are scant penalties for abuses. As a result, enforcement agencies have little incentive to give targeted men due process, to fix mistakes, or to write off erroneously or unfairly accrued debt. Instead, the bureaucracy simply charges ahead in trying to collect as much as possible.”
I have also discussed how difficult it often is for deployed servicemen to litigate or resolve their divorce and child custody matters while they are overseas. In my co-authored column Protect Deployed Parents” Rights (Tucson Citizen & others, 11/9/06), I wrote:
“Divorced or separated military parents often lose custody of their children–and sometimes permanently forfeit any meaningful role in their lives–simply because they have served their country. Many married parents deploy overseas, never suspecting that their parenthood essentially ended the day they left home.”Here is another example of how our child support and family law system mistreats military fathers. In this case, a father serving with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq comes back to the United States to visit his two daughters and ends up in jail for child support!Yes, he is behind on it–apparently because he was out of work for a while–but he has been paying child support directly out of his pay check each pay period. No, it doesn’t sound like this dad did everything right, but it doesn’t sound like he did much wrong either. It looks more like he was a victim of the child support system and his inability to fully litigate his divorce while overseas. Moreover, it sounds like this so-called “deadbeat dad” joined the Army and went to Iraq partly because he needed to earn money to help support his children. Now his short two-week visit home, in which he hoped to spend time with his two little daughters, has turned out so badly that he says he’s looking forward to going back to Iraq! Welcome home, soldier.
Here is another example of how our child support and family law system mistreats military fathers. In this case, a father serving with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq comes back to the United States to visit his two daughters and ends up in jail for child support!Yes, he is behind on it–apparently because he was out of work for a while–but he has been paying child support directly out of his pay check each pay period. No, it doesn’t sound like this dad did everything right, but it doesn’t sound like he did much wrong either. It looks more like he was a victim of the child support system and his inability to fully litigate his divorce while overseas. Moreover, it sounds like this so-called “deadbeat dad” joined the Army and went to Iraq partly because he needed to earn money to help support his children. Now his short two-week visit home, in which he hoped to spend time with his two little daughters, has turned out so badly that he says he’s looking forward to going back to Iraq! Welcome home, soldier.
Thanks to Mark, a reader, for sending me the story.
Local GI sent to jail
Oneonta Daily Star (10/23/07)
By Jake Palmateer
COOPERSTOWN _ A soldier from Oneonta on leave from Iraq said Monday he can’t wait to return.
Aaron O’Connor, serving with the 3rd Infantry Division, had 15 days back in the United States and said he intended to take care of personal business at Fort Stewart, Ga., as well as get his divorce finalized in Cooperstown.
He said he also hoped to spend time with his two daughters.
His ex-wife, Christina O’Connor, has full custody of their 8-year-old and 4-year-old daughters.
What he said he didn’t count on was spending a night in Otsego County jail on a contempt-of-court warrant issued in January relating to not paying child and spousal support. That warrant is based on a Dec. 13, 2006, judgment by Otsego County Family Court Judge Brian Burns that ordered O’Connor to a six-month commitment to jail unless he remained current on his support payments for 12 months and paid all medical and dental bills for the children.
O’Connor said he was arrested on that warrant Friday while in Cooperstown to finalize his divorce. The arrest, he said, came as a shock because he has had his child and spousal support payments automatically deducted from his Army pay. He was released for the weekend to see his daughters but was ordered to report back to the jail Sunday night.
After a family court appearance Monday, O’Connor, 30, said he was released from jail after paying $378, including money for an eye appointment and glasses for one of his two daughters.
“I just spent time in jail for under $400,” O’Connor said from a cell phone as he drove with his girlfriend to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. “This never should have happened.”
From Dulles, O’Connor will fly to Atlanta and then to Kuwait. After that, he said, his next stop is Camp Korean Village in Ar Rutba, Iraq.
A former Marine, O’Conner joined the Army last fall with the rank of sergeant and shipped out to Iraq in January.
“I don’t like being away from my daughters. But it pays. It’s what I know. It’s what I do,” O’Connor said.
In court Monday, Judge Brian Burns pointed out that O’Connor owes $12,400 in child and spousal support since he separated from his wife two years ago.
O’Connor doesn’t dispute that he owes his ex-wife money and said he wants to set things right, although he did say the amount he owes is closer to $8,000.
“There had been a time he did not pay support because he was unemployed,” O’Connor’s attorney Kara Harmon said after the court session.
Christina O’Connor, 31, said she began receiving payments in February 2007.
ccording to court documents, O’Connor is obligated to pay $172 for child support; $70 in spousal support; and $50 toward the $12,400 in arrears obligation each week.
‘Connor said he makes about $5,000 a month while on duty in Iraq or about $3,000 a month while in the United States and has to pay $1,264 a month in child and spousal support.
“Apparently he was ordered to pay child support on a weekly basis,” Harmon said.
But the Department of Defense only allocates child support, alimony or other deductions from a service member’s pay on a monthly basis, Harmon said.
This means O’Connor falls three weeks delinquent before he pays the full amount at the end of the month, she said.
In court, Burns said O’Connor can very well pay a month of child and spousal support in advance in anticipation of the monthly allotments out of his pay to make up for not paying weekly.
“This isn’t about his convenience,” Burns said. “This is about providing the mother … child support she needs.”
Christina O’Connor said Monday night her ex-husband could have been sent to jail for the full six months if she had not agreed to accept just the payment he made that day.
“We’ve been in and out of that court for two years,” Christina O’Connor said.
Harmon said her client would have been absent without leave had he been detained any longer.
“It would have been a nightmare had it not been settled today,” Harmon said. “It’s outrageous.”
During the proceeding Monday, O’Connor wore and orange jail jumpsuit. His hands were handcuffed and his legs were shackled. Three armed sheriff’s departmental personnel stood nearby. A request to remove handcuffs for O’Connor to sign paperwork was denied.
“It’s horrible to be treated like that as if I just murdered somebody or raped somebody,” O’Connor said.
Harmon said there are certain privileges that should be afforded to active duty service members deployed overseas because of the difficulties they may have in dealing with paperwork, mail and access to phones.
Harmon said this case may have been different had it occurred in a community near a military base.
“Obviously in those kinds of towns, they are much more aware of what these things entail,” Harmon said.
Aaron O’Connor said he’s looking forward to returning to Iraq.
But Christina O’Connor said it doesn’t matter if her ex-husband is in Iraq or anywhere else.
“He still has an obligation back in the United States,” she said.