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Child Support: Is It The 'Least Enforced' Court Order?

Child Support: Is It The 'Least Enforced' Court Order? image Child Support: Is It The 'Least Enforced' Court Order? image
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Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.
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(SECmüLQF ÍEERIES) Are alimony and child supI port orders among the "least ■ enforced" court orders in the I United States? A New York divorce lawI yer, who has proposed divorce I insurance to help solve finanI cial problems following a diI vorce, thinks so. And so do a - I large contingent of Ann Arbor I women. Ann Desautels, coördinator I of the Marriage, Divorce and I Family Relations Committee I of the Ann Arbor chapter of I the National Organization for I Women (NOW), believes the I amount of enforcement is I directly related to the moI ther's "initiative and aggresI siveness." The child-support orders for I her three youngsters were I belatedly enforced by the I Washtenaw County Friend of I the Court office "only because I of my initiation and aggres siveness," she says. "Women who are really down and really poor have no hope of getting child support payments enforced, and the fathers know it." She cites one case in which a physician is still about $8,500 behind in his payments. He has been arrested twice and been taken to court JJabout ten times" because of y his refusal to pay, according to his former wife. A divorced mother from Ann Arbor with two teenagers also believes enforcem e n t is lacking: ' ' I f the support-paying parent does not want to pay, there's not much that's done." She points to her own story of an exhusband with a Ph.D. degree who has consistently been several m o n t h s behind in child support payments for nearly 12 years, and who for the last three years "has refused to pay his half of their medical-dental expenses as ordered by the courts," she says. The woman told The News: "There is no protection for the custodial parent against the freewheeling decisión of the non-custodial parent to pay whatever, whenever and if ever he chooses to. In fact, I realize we are pretty fortúnate to still be receiving anything at all after more than 11 jears." Another Ann Arbor woman, the mother of four youngsters, said her ex-husband periodically did not pay his support payments for several months so that she-would go into debt. The Friend of the Court was never much, help, she says. "And it's the children who suffer," she asserts. "There should be a way the children are assured of the money each month at the s a m e time." Russell Hoisington of Ann Arbor, who is supporting five children from a previous marriagc, agrees that enforcement is half-hearted. He says he has never fallen behind in his payments, and says his child support check is the first one he writes after receiving his paycheck. But the system is "very dependent on the father and izee his approach. If he's out to I get the mother, he can do it I very effectively," Hoisington I says. Some fathers simply leave I town to avoid making I ments and become "affluent I runaway daddies," in the I words of Jane Hayhoe. a I teacher at Mitchell I tary School. She says she I knows of a divorced man who I lives in a house in California, I replete with a pool, and I makes a sizeable income. But I she says, he is $18,000 behind' I in his payments to his two I children. He has, in fact, moved eight 1 times iñ the past six years to I avoid making his payments, I she says. Most men, however, with I jobs and ties to the I ty, do not skip town. Many I simply do not pay. And the problem is not I unique to Ann Arbor. A study J made several years ago in I Wisconsin showed, for j ple, that one year after the J vorce decree, only 38 per cent I of the fathers were in full I compliance with the support I order. Some 42 per cent made I no payment at all. By the I tenth year, only 13 per cent of I the fathers were fully comply-. I ing, and 79 per cent were in I total non-compliance. "You're simply dependent 1 on the whims of a man who 1 hates you or acts as if he I does," says a divorced 1 er who says her child support I payments have rarely been on II time. i Washtenaw Circuit Court II Judgé William F. Ager be-ll Nieves the picture is not that II black, however. "We spend a II lot of time on enforcement," II Judge Ager maintains. One II recent day, for example.ll Judge Ager said he signed six II orders to arrest non-paying II fathers plus 10 or 11 orders III for the fathers to attend III tempt hearings in court be-ll cause of non-payment. "Women who have no prob-ll lems think the system is II working," Judge Ager says. The Washtenaw County II Friend of the Court office alsoll believes the system is work-ll ing, t h o u g h not perfectly. II Friend of the Court attorneyll Michael Malley says many of III the non-custodial parents pay IJ their support payments regu-lll larly and promptly. An "enforcement officer"l was hired by the Friend of II the Court last year to track i I accent on i women down non-paying parents, but both Malley and Friend of the I Court Richard Benedek concede there are "limited sanctions available" to force nonI custodial parents to pay. IJ There are "show-cause" I hearings - orders to appear I in court to show cause why I punishment f o r contempt I should not be imposed for I failure to make child support I payments. Some 317 of these I were held in 1970. Then there I are wage assignments - the I regular withholding of child I support payments by the emI ployer. In 1970, wage assignments I were used in five per cent of I the cases handled by the I Friend of the Court. Benedek and Malley said I they avoid recommending jail ■ fora non-paying p a r e n t I "whenever possible, because I the long-range repercussion of I jail can be devastating to the I family relationship." In 1970, I only 80 jail writs were issued, as compared with 193 writs in 1969 and 373 in 1960. The Friend of the Court says they "wouldn't hesitate," however, to jail a man who has funds and will not pay. "We simply hate to put a man in jail because then he really can't pay," says Bene dek. Some local women, however, who blame the Friend of the Court for n o n - eníorcement, argüe that the men who should be put in jail are not p a y i n g , anyway. "Usually once they 're jailed, they pay in the future with no problem," states a woman whosé ex-husband was put in jail after more than a year of non-support. Some local women point to figures provided by t h e Friend of the Cóurt in its 1970 I illustrate their I charge of non-enforcement. I According to 1970 figures, I 000 children received I 462 through the Friend of the Court - an average of $315 per child, per year. That $3 million figure does not include payments made directly to the custodial parent from the non-custodial parent. "That's an average of about $6 weekly per child," says one woman. "Nearly all judgments are higher than this. Obviously the orders are not being enforced, because the office , is mismanaged, understaffed and overloaded with cases." Friend of the Court Bened e k disagrees, however. "There is room for improvement, certainly. We're looking for new ideas and new methods of enforcement all the time. But I think we're doing a pretty good job." The Michigan Friend of the HHHH Court system will be studied ■ this summer by State Sen. I Gilbert E. Bursley (R-Ann 1 bor) and five members of the I Senate Judiciary Committee I because of statewide 1 plaints against the offices. "We have had no particular I complaints against the I enaw County Friend of the I Court, but throughout the I state there seems to be a I eral feeling that the' clients I are not humanely treated, I that t h e i r problems arel brushed off, that payments I are not made on time," I ley says. Most of the I plaints have been from I men, he says. (Tomorrow: Do divorce I courts discrimínale against I women?) ., ■