Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families
Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh joins Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Illinois Sen. Roland Burris in sponsoring the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2009. A similar bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Danny Davis – IL.
On the one hand, Sen. Bayh deserves commendation for his leadership on the issue, helping to bring national attention and focusing on the importance of children knowing and spending time with their fathers. As a successor to his own father as a US Senator from Indiana, Sen. Bayh is well aware of the value and importance of a father’s involvement in his children’s lives.
By consistently elevating this message into the public forum, Sen. Bayh does a great service to American families. He has followed the lead of an earlier Indiana Sen., former Vice President Dan Quayle, in keeping the discussion alive concerning the importance of fathers’ roles in their children’s upbringing.
The bill also has some provisions that will be very helpful in reducing some of the inefficiencies incurred by the government’s intervention with poor families, and helping to put more money directly into the pockets of needy families, particularly those in two parent households – a model we should encourage and foster.
Unfortunately, however, if the goal is to help increase the involvement of fathers in their children’s lives, it badly misses the mark in most of its provisions, and may in fact help extend the continuing assault on fathers’ ability to act as parents in their children’s lives.
While both federal and state legislation are badly needed, key provisions of any legislation should address the following:
Equality in Parenting: while parents’ roles will always differ, both parents matter deeply to every child, and on the whole, their roles should be valued equally and with an equality of balance. When parents separate, divorce, and act as single parents, each parent should be responsible for roughly equal shares of financial and parenting time responsibilities. This equality should be recognized under the law. The father who is willing to bear his share of each of these responsibilities should be honored and acknowledged, and his role and time with the children should not be inhibited by the family courts.
Support Enforcement: while covering a relatively equal share of his children’s financial support is part and parcel to fatherhood and will always be expected of fathers, current child support standards are far too onerous and unfairly burdensome to fathers. The federal government plays a role in support regulation today and productive reforms can be made in the law as follows:
- Repeal the Bradley Amendment: Fathers who have been alienated from their children, perhaps have not seen them for 5,10 or 20 years, should not be forced to pay support to the mother. The Bradley Amendment has created a situation where we have billions of dollars of uncollectible child support over the past 20 years, and it is time for its repeal.
- Title IV-D Funding: Under current law, states are rewarded with federal funds based on the amount of support they collect. This creates an incentive in the system to create unreasonably high support guidelines and calculations, set inappropriately high support awards, and deploy draconian enforcement methods that force many, good fathers to live in poverty or near poverty conditions. States should receive federal funding focusing directly and solely on those cases where collection is achievable (actual resources are shown to be available), and there is a history of continuing dereliction and lack of cooperation on the part of the parent obligated for support.
- Imputation of Income: Not even the IRS can arbitrarily impute an income against which it may levy charges, yet nearly every state permits this practice in determining the amount of support a father will have to pay. This practice defies the principles underlying many of our Constitutional rights. No state should be allowed to receive any federal funding as long as it allows for this practice.
- Sanctions/Imprisonment: There are many jurisdictions nationally where more than 10% of the prison/jail population is made up of fathers who are unable to pay support. This runs contrary to the purpose of the laws themselves, as it prevents from earning the income necessary to do what the law is expecting of him. The law should prohibit any parent who is willing to work and pay support from being jailed for non-payment of support, and parents responsible for support should be given a preference in professional and other licensing that may be necessary in order to earn the income to pay support.
- Garnishments: While other creditors are limited to garnishing 25% of an individual’s income, child support agencies can collect up to 65% – 65% of a low or mid-income wage, leaves the person completely unable to meet any other obligations, even the most basic. Garnishments for support should be limited to 25%, consistent with otehr creditors.
Domestic Violence Issues: domestic violence is a very serious crime and should always be treated as such. Allegations of domestic violence should result in appropriate protection for the victim with appropriate sanctions. Children should not suffer alienation from a parent, they should not be punished for the actions of the parent.
Often the consequence of charges of domestic violence are the complete alienation of parent and child, financial costs that cannot or will not be paid nor recovered, and this often results from minimal, sometimes even ex parte hearings, with no jury and a standard of proof that requires nothing more, in most cases, than the suggestion of fear on the part of the accuser.
Even where a Temporary Restraining Order is an appropriate remedy, it should not be allowed to be used as a tool for the future alienation of fathers and children. The point of the law is to help preserve the bond between children and their fathers and the law should be designed to promote these relationships.
If there is any temporary period of separation between a child and parent, the law should require both parents to participate in a process of restoration and reconciliation of the parental relationship. A father cannot be responsible if he is to be excluded from the family mix.
These changes will make the law better, stronger and more effective in accomplishing the goal of healthy families with responsible fathers.
Andrew J Thompson is an attorney practicing in Indiana. Please visit Thompson Legal Services today for any assistance you need with family law related matters.