punishing prisoners with child support debt

The U.S. state of Texas provides indigent child-support debtors with an attorney to help them avoid being incarcerated for being indigent and hence unable to pay child support.  South Carolina, in contrast, imprisons indigent child support debtors without ensuring them the benefit of counsel (see Turner v. Rogers). Thus on this measure of legal due-process protection, Texas shows more concern for child-support debtors.

More concern for child-support debtors in Texas doesn’t amount to much concern.  Consider the Texas Attorney General’s brochure, Incarcerated Parents and Child Support: the Handbook for Incarcerated Parents.  The brochure’s intended audience is incarcerated parents in Texas.  It provides answers to frequently asked questions about child support.

I’m in prison and can’t work. Why doesn’t my child support order change?

Good question.  The brochure’s response doesn’t answer this question.  Instead, it shames the prisoner (what about your children’s needs?) and declares authoritatively that the order to pay doesn’t change despite state action (incarceration) that deprives the person of the ability to earn income.  The prisoner has to file a form to request a modification of the child support order.  The totalitarian Bradley Amendment makes the date of filing the form determine the possible time frame for modifying the child-support order. ANYONE WHO IS INCARCERATED WHILE SUBJECT TO A CHILD-SUPPORT ORDER SHOULD FILE A REQUEST FOR CHILD SUPPORT REDUCTION IMMEDIATELY.  Or at least as soon as the prison or jail gives you the form and the means to file it.

Administratively determined child-support payment levels are like prices set in the Soviet Union.  Mountains of technical documents generated Soviet prices, and so too today for child-support financial payment levels.  Limited administrative information, many differing details of individual circumstances, and economic dynamics regularly made Soviet prices into highly damaging economic nonsense.  A county-wide recession and acute personal misfortunes likewise can make child-support orders into economic nonsense.

I was receiving child support payments before I came to prison. What happens to my child support payments while I’m in prison?

The motherhood phrase “child support” deludes many.  Child support is paid mainly to mothers and carries with it no obligation to spend “my child support payments” on the child, nor even to provide any accounting for how “my child support payments” are spent.  The Attorney General’s response implicitly acknowledges that the phrase “child support” is merely a motherhood statement:

The Attorney General’s Office will continue to send child support payments to the {incarcerated} custodial parent (CP) through the option he or she {in about 90% of cases, she} selected for receiving child support. If the CP doesn’t request any changes, the payments will continue to be sent through direct deposit to his or her { in about 90% of cases, her} checking account or debit card, or a check will be mailed to the address previously requested. Child support payments {to the incarcerated person} will not stop unless a court order redirects payments to another person.

The child support system sends payments to mothers and can’t even be bothered to send the payments to the children’s caretaker when a mother is incarcerated.

{I’m incarcerated and} I don’t have a child support case, so I don’t have anything to worry about, right?

You may not have a child support case when you go to prison, but that doesn’t mean a new case can’t be established while you are incarcerated. If you are served with legal papers from the Attorney General’s Office, it is important that you respond promptly in writing to the court that issued the papers and the local child support office that is named in the papers. If you do not respond, the court may make a decision on your child support case without your involvement, which is called a default judgment, and includes setting the amount of child support you must pay regardless of your situation.

Not filling out a form (default judgement) establishes “paternity” in a large share of child support cases.  Biological paternity matters only if a child-support order can’t be established through marital presumption or not returning a form.

What are the legal benefits for an incarcerated father when paternity is established?

Establishing paternity has many benefits for both children and parents. The most important benefit for children is knowing that they have a father who wants to be in their life. Once paternity has been established, you become the legal father of that child, with all the rights and responsibilities of a father who was married to the mother. The Texas Attorney General’s Office cannot help you obtain visitation with or custody of your child. There is no guarantee of the right to custody or visitation, but you have a right to raise the issue of custody and visitation in court or during the child support review process.

Establishing legal paternity benefits child-support administrators, because paternity establishments are one of their performance measures.  The claim,”The most important benefit for children {of legally establishing paternity} is knowing that they have a father who wants to be in their life” is grotesque, absurd, emotional coercion applied to prisoners who are already likely to be feeling an acute sense of personal failure.  Children don’t care about legal documents that a prisoner signs.  A prisoner voluntarily establishing paternity makes it easier for a child support agency to bury him in child-support debt while he is in prison.  I cannot see any advantage to a prisoner of voluntarily acknowledging paternity to a child-support agency.

What does it mean to “acknowledge paternity”?

Paternity means fatherhood.  When both parties sign an AOP {Acknowledgement of Paternity} and it is filed with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit (VSU), the biological father becomes the legal father.  Once paternity has been established, the father’s name is placed on the birth certificate.  A court can order him to pay child support and may grant him the rights for visitation or possession of his child.

Paternity means fatherhood, or not returning a form, or having sex and being confronted with unplanned parenthood.  Despite the Attorney General’s statement, signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity does not necessarily make the biological father the legal father.  Men are subject to significant paternity uncertainty until they acquire highly certain knowledge with modern DNA testing.  Signing a form does not change biological facts.  Moreover, a court is highly unlikely to grant a prisoner rights for visitation or possession of his legally established child.  Even if a court did, prison officials probably would not allow such rights to be exercised.  To repeat, I cannot see any advantage to a prisoner of voluntarily acknowledging paternity to a child-support agency.

Are fathers treated differently from mothers in child support matters?

No. In terms of support, custody, or visitation, the law does not discriminate based upon the gender of a person. The law focuses on what is the best interest of the child.

From 1993 to 2007, about five mothers were awarded child custody for every father awarded child custody.  Across that same period, about eight mothers were awarded child support for every father awarded child support.  What does gender equality actually mean? Among full-time wage and salary workers in the U.S. in 2010, women’s median weekly earnings were 19% less than men’s. This gender gap has attracted enormous concern about sex discrimination.  But everyone is supposed to believe that women receiving child support eight times as frequently as men has nothing to do with sex discrimination.

The respondents in Turner v. Rogers argued that indigent child-support obligors don’t need the benefit of counsel.  Anyone inclined to believe that claim should ponder the counsel that the Texas Attorney General provides about child support to incarcerated persons.

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8 thoughts on “punishing prisoners with child support debt”

  1. My question is why should the incarcerated parent be allowed to lower their child support payments just for being in jail? It is their own fault they are in there and the only person getting hurt is the child. Them being in jail doesn;t change the fact that they child needs to be taken care of. Also why does it seem like to me if you are an incarcerated criminal you pretty much get a free pass on paying child support.

  2. y will south carolina not serve someone in there jail with child support paperwork they say its not legal how is this possible? thats the easist way to serve someone . i live in another state an i want an establishment of my case hes been on the run for almost 3 years he has another son that he has court order child support for which is y he is in jail now he is susposed to serve a 9 month term in lexington county detention center in lexington south carolina well i find out that hes gettin early release? ? ? y should he get that. my son is almost 3 an hasnt seen his father since he was 4 months old. i dont care about the money its the point that he should have a dna test done to prove its his child bc he questions our son who looks just like him. also he has another child on the way. hes just out in the world to make babies an not take care of them. so my question is since hes already got an open child support case y cant they use the dna from the other case an just do my sons dna test an do an establishment ?

    1. To Kari-
      Maybe if you weren’t so illiterate, you could make enough money to take care of your son on your own. You could probably afford some birth control too.

      1. That was rude. You don’t know half her story. I’m a single mom of three and truly thought the father was the good. Shit just doesn’t work out some times. There’s all kinds of circumstantial situations and you just judged this girl cause you might have had a bad day.

  3. Um OK nvm. Baby girl. You just need to research more. He’s gonna get out early hopefully he finds a job to pay cs. The quicker the better I’m guessing in your case. Sounds like your frustrated. Probably financially. But if he’s getting out early then hopefully that’s better for you. You have a lot of resentment towards him. That won’t help you. You need to let go of that. You aren’t with him. And until he has learned any life lesson….and definitely not by you. He won’t be good for his son neither.

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