When our supposedly compassionate federal government pokes its nose into areas that, under our principle of federalism, should be none of its business, the result is often unintended consequences, gross injustices, and of course massive costs.
A prime example is the 1986 federal Bradley Amendment, which mandates that a child-support debt cannot be retroactively reduced or forgiven even if the debtor is unemployed, hospitalized, in prison, sent to war, dead, proved to not be the father, never allowed to see his children, or loses his job or suffers a pay cut.
The result of this incredibly rigid law is to impose a punishment that makes it impossible for any but the very rich to get out from under a Bradley debt. Thousands of fathers are sentenced to debtors' prison (a medieval practice we thought abolished in the United States centuries ago), and thousands more have their drivers license confiscated (making it extraordinarily difficult to get a job).
There is no requirement that, if and when the Bradley debt is paid, the money be spent on the children, or that the debt be based on an estimate of the child's needs, or even that the so-called children actually be children (some states require the father to pay for college tuition). The Bradley debt is misnamed "child support"; it is a court-imposed judgment to punish men and extract money from them to support some mothers and a $3 billion federal and state bureaucracy.
Take the case of Larry Souter as reported recently in the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press. He was released after spending 13 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of second-degree murder.
He was then summoned to court to explain why he should not be convicted of contempt for nonpayment of his Bradley debt that kept rising during his years in prison: $23,000 in back support plus interest and penalties that raised the total to $38,082.25. The ex-wife's attorney argues that Souter should pay because she "has endured the substantial burden of raising her two children without defendant's contribution of child support."
Because the children are now adults, this case proves that the Bradley debt has nothing to do with child support. It has to do with court-ordered transfer payments from which the state gets a cut.
This case is not an anomaly. Clarence Brandley spent 10 years in prison before he was exonerated and released in 1990, whereupon the state hit him with a bill for nearly $50,000 in child support debt that accumulated while in prison.
Many other cases prove that men cannot escape the Bradley debt even if DNA proves that they are not the father. The law even forbids bankruptcy to alleviate the Bradley debt.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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