Most reservists called upon to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan have paid a big price: a significant reduction of their wages as they transferred from civilian to military jobs, separation from their loved ones, and of course the risk of battle wounds or death.
Regrettably, on their return home, those who are divorced fathers could face other grievous penalties: loss of their children, financial ruin, prosecution as "deadbeat dads" and even jail.
Child-support orders for reservists are usually based on their civilian wages. When they are called up to active duty that burden doesn't decrease. Few can get court modification before they leave, modifications are seldom granted anyway, and even if a father applied for modification before deployment the debt continues to grow until the case is decided much later.
Military fathers cannot get relief when they return because federal law forbids courts from reducing child-support debt retroactively. Once the arrearage reaches $5,000, the father becomes a felon subject to imprisonment and forfeiture of his driver's license, professional licenses and passport.
Likewise, there is no forgiving of interest and penalties on child-support debt even though it is sometimes incurred as a result of human or computer errors. States have a financial incentive to refuse to reduce obligations because the federal government rewards states with cash for the "deadbeat dad" dollars they collect.
Laws granting deployed service personnel protection from legal actions at home date back decades, but they are ignored in family court. Child kidnapping laws do not protect military personnel on active duty from having their ex-wives relocate their children.
This injustice to reservists serving in Iraq and Afghanistan should be remedied by Congress and state legislatures before more fathers meet the fate of Bobby Sherrill, a father of two from North Carolina, who worked for Lockheed Martin Corp. in Kuwait before being captured and held hostage by Iraq for five terrible months. The night Sherrill returned from the Persian Gulf he was arrested for failing to pay $1,425 in child support while he was held captive.
In February, a Wilkes-Barre, Pa., judge sentenced 28 men to jail for failure to pay small amounts of child support, one as little as $322. One common punishment for falling behind in court-ordered payments is to seize a man's driver's license. This can cost him his job. Yet he is still required to make child-support payments and can be thrown in jail if that proves to be impossible.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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