HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (lodeplus.com) – Alabama parents rights groups are crying foul over federal incentive payments to the States under a Social Security program that pays two dollars for every dollar collected by the State for State-imposed child support orders. [42 U.S.C. §658a] The groups allege these laws promote aggressive practices which result in constitutional rights violations and unnecessary government intrusion into the parent-child relationship.
As early as 1998, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee admitted, ‘Most States make a profit on their child support program.’ The committee also noted, ‘States are free to spend this profit in any manner the State sees fits.’ Parents rights advocates maintain that the resulting State policies and procedures represent a grave conflict of interest which ultimately hurts Alabama’s children. [Committee Report, page 596]
A 1975 federal law enacted the Title IV-D program and created the Office of Child Support Enforcement. The program was intended to help reduce the federal government’s welfare costs by shifting the burden onto the parents through more efficient enforcement of support orders for children receiving welfare benefits.
Two decades saw sweeping changes for the program originally designed to help single moms on welfare and save the federal government money. Congress passed laws increasing the States’ administrative powers, automated wage withholding for support, and extended the program to all child support cases. It grew to include cases unrelated to, or not receiving, welfare benefits and also as a result of normal divorce proceedings. Parents rights groups across the nation claim that this was when the States began to utilize their child support programs as a method of revenue generation, paid for by non-custodial parents and the American taxpayers.
Though conceived as a method to reduce government spending, federal child support enforcement efforts have produced ballooning deficits. In 2002, the same House committee reported that, ‘The overall financial impact of the child support enforcement program on taxpayers is negative.’ [Committee Report, page 8-69] The American taxpayers lost $2.7 billion on the program in 2002 alone.
Author Stephen Baskerville, an associate professor of government at Patrick Henry college, notes in his 2007 book ‘Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage and the Family,’ the federal government also subsidizes the majority of the administrative costs to the State associated with child support enforcement. He quotes a Michigan attorney who revealed, ‘There is a $200 million per year profit motive driving this system,’ in his State alone. ‘It dances at the string of federal money.’ [page 119]
Parents rights groups agree that including non-welfare cases promotes unconstitutional practices by State child support enforcement authorities, actions which the State directly profits from. Advocates say that is the reason that visitation ordered in Alabama family courts is often only 60-90 days out of a year, if there is a visitation schedule ordered at all. They point out that the less visitation provided for the ‘non-custodial parent,’ the larger the child support obligation which the State can enforce against the parent.
Parents allege that this is the nature of the conflict of interest which exists, because it accordingly increases the incentive payment Alabama receives under the Title IV-D program by denying the non-custodial parent visitation and disregarding direct support that is provided. Under State law, direct support provided often does not count towards court-ordered child support. Advocates also claim that because child support orders are designed to profit the State, Alabama non-custodial parents are frequently forced into poverty.
Previous legislative attempts to safeguard the constitutional rights of Alabama parents for equal parenting time have been unsuccessful [Alabama SB196]. Parents rights advocates say they will continue those efforts. They have also vowed to challenge existing State law in federal courts, possibly beginning as early as this week. They say it will be the first of many formal complaints over alleged violations of the constitutional rights of Alabama parents which, if proven, would violate federal civil rights laws.
This is the first in a series of investigative reports into allegations of official misconduct in the Alabama family law system. Stay tuned for more information as this story develops.