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Published in the Garden City Observer; October 30, 2003

Original URL: (as of June 20, 2005, link does not work): 

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State tackles child support 'crisis' with erroneous data 

Hysteria and "witch hunting" is alive and well in Michigan these days with the latest dragnet efforts of certain local_state officials to collect child support payments from so-called "deadbeat" parents (i.e., dads).
These draconian efforts not only involve the typical local_state OCS enforcement agencies, but they even now include large corporations, such as General Motors, which apparently has been duped into co-sponsoring the new "PayKids" Web site, featuring the pictures_lists of so-called "deadbeat parents," and roadside billboards, etc. 

GM is reported to even be withholding significant employee bonus checks of all child support payors until they are able to identify those actually in arrearage. Ford and DaimlerChrysler rejected this approach.

Although no one disputes there are indeed irresponsible parents not meeting their court-ordered child support obligations, the research of many experts and even Michigan's own OCS statistics dispute the severity of the so-called child support "crisis" in the state. The favorite tactic of these politically ambitious zealots is to constantly remind the public of the "650,000 Michigan children who are owed $7 billion in overdue child support" without emphasizing that nearly half of that $7 billion is financially uncollectible and the majority of the balance is owed by those near or below the poverty level (i.e., "dead broke"). In words, these dragnets amount to little more than a smokescreen and do not address the bulk of the problem. 

To make matters worse, the new state MiCES child support system uses the same inaccurate and erroneous data from the old systems. Many of these so-called "deadbeats" are paid up or even overpaid in their child support obligations, but there are absolutely no incentives to correct the state records; since state agencies receive federal incentive funds according to gross (not accurate) financial performances.

Michigan currently ranks fifth in the country in successfully collecting on current child support orders, but is near the bottom with California in collecting on child support arrearages. 

Why is this? Primarily it is due to three reasons. First, the Michigan child support formula guidelines in use for more than 15 years ("income shares") have now been shown to be flawed, erroneous and inaccurate resulting in larger-than-justified (25 percent) child support awards.

Secondly, the Michigan Legislature implemented an 8 percent compounded surcharge on arrearages some years ago that has astronomically ballooned the actual child support arrearage amounts. This surcharge is compounded biannually into the actual owed arrearage amounts and no provisions were made to retire uncollectible debts due to deaths, bankruptcies, errors, etc. So it simply continues to grow to become the fodder-of-hysteria for certain political zealots. 

Thirdly, Michigan judges largely remain reluctant or opposed to making joint physical custody awards of minor children to fit parents, thus segregating and alienating one parent (typically a father) from their children. There is both planned and pending legislation to address some of these problems, but there are also efforts to delay or defeat such legislation by the same political zealots and their allies. 

Finally, many of the so-called "deadbeats" should not even be paying child support at all. A significant portion of Michigan's arrearage is owed by men obligated to pay child support for another man's child or children. This oftentimes occurs when prosecutors establish paternity by default using an alleged father's name given by unwed mothers, as it so often happens in counties like Wayne in 70 percent of unwed paternity cases. 

Sadly, even Michigan FIA statistics indicate that nearly one in three men actually tested for paternity is excluded as being the father. Some estimates even show that 10-14 percent of married and divorced men are unknowingly held out to be the fathers of other men's children as our current law, based upon the 500-year-old "Lord Mansfield's Rule," dictates.

"Child support should never be confused with supporting your children. The two are not related. Child support is a single parent household enabler (since its definition has yet to be even defined into Michigan law). As a social policy however, this is what it was designed to do," says Lowell Jaks, president of ANCPR. 

Supporting children has always included the emotional, psychological and moral support of two responsible parents É even if those parents are unable to live under a single roof. Experts and research studies agree that child support compliance is maximized when both parents have equitable access to their children. 

That is exactly why legislators in other states, such as Ohio, are now considering shared_equal parenting legislation for unwed and divorcing parents. 

So why the current deadbeat "witch-hunt" and child support hysteria in Michigan? In my learned opinion, it all comes down to personal and political overzealousness, plus votes for 2004 and beyond É justice and constitutional rights be damned! Where's the ACLU when it's really needed? 

Murray Davis is vice president of the National Family Justice Association. For more information, visit the NJA Web site at www.nfja.org.