by Phyllis Schlafly
Most of the reservists called up to serve in the Iraq war 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 another grievous penalty: loss of their children, financial ruin, prosecution as “deadbeat dads,” and even jail.
Reservists’ child-support orders were based on their civilian wages, and 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.
These servicemen fathers cannot get relief when they return because federal law forbids a court to reduce the debt retroactively. Once the arrearage reaches $5,000, the father becomes a felon subject to imprisonment plus the loss of his driver’s and professional licenses and passport.
Likewise, there is no forgiving of the interest and penalties on the child-support debt even though it is sometimes incurred because of human or computer errors. States have a financial incentive to refuse to reduce obligations because the federal government rewards the states with cash for the “deadbeat dad” dollars they collect.
Laws granting deployed service personnel protection against legal actions at home date back decades, but they are ignored in the family courts. Child kidnapping laws do not protect military personnel on active duty from their ex-wives relocating their children.
This injustice to our reservists serving in Iraq 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 in Kuwait before being captured and held hostage by Iraq for five terrible months. The night he returned from the Persian Gulf he was arrested for failing to pay $1,425 in child support while he was a captive.
Just last week, a Wilkes Barre, PA judge sentenced 28 to jail for failure to pay small amounts of child support, one as little as $322. One of the most common punishments for falling behind in family-court-ordered payments is to take away a father’s driver’s license, costing him his job, then demand that he make his child-support payments anyway, and throw him in jail when that proves impossible.
Politicians today are engaged in a spirited debate about giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens so they can get to work. But somehow the law has already decided that a divorced father, who may have fallen behind in child-support payments, should be punished by having his driver’s license taken away.