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Opinion

When child support becomes extortion, families lose

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Opinion,Virginia,Op-Eds,Divorce,Family Issues

Every few years, Virginia officials try to push through measures that will divide families, plunder and incarcerate law-abiding parents and channel money to lawmakers' cronies such as lawyers and civil servants. Proponents of HB 933, now before the state Senate, have offered no justification whatever for increasing child support, since child support increases automatically with the cost of living.

The child support system in Virginia and most other states is riven with chicanery. The corruption has been documented by numerous scholars, including W.S. Comanor's The Law and Economics of Child Support Payments, where leading scholars characterize the system as "an obvious sham," a "disaster" and "the most onerous form of debt collection practiced in the United States.”

As a member of Virginia’s advisory Child Support Review Panel, I witnessed how officials rig the process. The panel was packed with divorce operatives with pecuniary interests in making divorce more lucrative and common. It consulted only "experts" who urged increases and ignored scholars like Bryce Christensen, who points out "the linkage between aggressive child-support policies and the erosion of wedlock" and who charges that "the advocates of ever-more-aggressive measures for collecting child support … have moved us a dangerous step closer to a police state."

When I described these abuses in a major newspaper, I was promptly removed from the panel.

Officials acknowledged that "opinions published in the … Washington Times" were the reason. The then-health secretary wrote, "I find it difficult to see how you could effectively participate along with representatives of other groups that very likely have different perspectives than yours."

Since all the other members had a vested interest in higher child-support burdens, a willingness to increase child support effectively became a requirement for serving on the panel. As the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star editorialized, "Baskerville's key point -- that when it comes to state-dictated child-support issues the fix is in -- is only strengthened when he's sacked for making it."

Ethical rulemaking procedures are ignored in formulating child support levels. The fact that the current director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement (ostensibly an apolitical civil servant) actively lobbies for legislation that will increase the power and earnings of his agency, including opinion pieces in newspapers, is only one indication of the shabby ethics governing child support.

Child support is falsely advertised as requiring parents to pay for children they have willfully abandoned. Virginia’s practice reveals that it has become a shakedown of parents whose children have been seized by the divorce courts. Once citizens can be forced to pay the government money they have done nothing to owe, there is no limit to the amount the government can loot.

Child support is now extracted at gunpoint without reference to a host of unanswered questions: Why are so many children being separated from their parents in the first place? Who decides how much parents who have committed no legal wrong can be required to pay? What ensures that it is spent on the children? Why are parents being jailed en masse without trial?

Without answering these questions, child support becomes simply government-organized thievery. Once the state can seize a man’s children without cause (“no fault”) and force him to pay for it, then everyone develops an incentive to reach into his pocket and take what they want.

For these reasons, Virginia child support, like that of most other states, is crushingly high. “Child support guidelines currently in use typically generate awards that are much higher than would be the case if based on economically sound cost concepts,” writes economist Mark Rogers, who served on the Georgia Commission on Child Support.

The Urban Institute reports that unpaid support accrues because “orders are set too high relative to ability to pay.” Federal officials have admitted that their figures on unpaid support are based on awards that are beyond parents’ means.

Like welfare, child support subsidizes single-parent homes. It pays mothers to divorce or bear children out of wedlock. Economist Robert Willis calculates that only a fraction of child support payments are actually spent on children. The rest creates “an incentive for divorce by the custodial mother.” Kimberly Folse and Hugo Varela-Alvarez write in the Journal of Socio-Economics that child support serves as an “economic incentive for middle-class women to seek divorce.”

State governments also generate revenue from child support, courtesy of federal taxpayers, giving officials a financial incentive to encourage divorce and unwed childbearing.

This is why state governments set child support at onerous levels. Not only does it immediately maximize their revenues; by encouraging mothers to divorce, governments increase the number of paying fathers, thus generating more revenue. This accounts for absurdities like boys forced to pay the child molesters who raped them.

All this points to a bureaucratic regime that is not simply flawed or inefficient but one that is creating the very problem it claims to be solving.

Dr. Stephen Baskerville, a former member of the Virginia Child Support Guideline Review Panel, is professor of government at Patrick Henry College and author of "Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family." Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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