Magazines

Abuse in the name of kids

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Reason's L.A.-based associate editor Matt Welch has a strong piece in the current issue that takes off from the bad experience of his wrongly accused friend, local blogger Tony Pierce, to show what's rotten with the system of collecting child support from alleged deadbeat dads.

What Pierce didnít realize, and what nearly 10 million American men have discovered to their chagrin since the welfare reform legislation of 1996, is that when the government accuses you of fathering a child, no matter how flimsy the evidence, you are one month away from having your life wrecked. Federal law gives a man just 30 days to file a written challenge; if he doesnít, he is presumed guilty. And once that steamroller of justice starts rolling, dozens of statutory lubricants help make it extremely difficult, and prohibitively expensive, to stop -- even, in most cases, if thereís conclusive DNA proof that the man is not the childís father.

This stacked deck against accused dads has provoked a backlash movement, triggering "paternity fraud" legislation and related legal challenges in more than a dozen states. Combined with advances in genetic technology, this conflict may end up changing the way we define parenthood. For now, the system aimed at catching "deadbeat dads" illustrates how a noble-sounding effort to help children and taxpayers can trample the rights of innocent people.

[fast forward]

If the father falls 30 days behind on his payments, he will be blocked by law from receiving or renewing a driverís license or any "authorization issued by a board that allows a person to engage in a business, occupation, or profession" -- a category that includes teaching credentials, fishing licenses, and state bar memberships. If his credit rating was good, it wonít be any more. If his past-due tab exceeds $5,000, the U.S. State Department wonít issue him a passport. (An average of 60 Americans discover this each day. Meanwhile, Congress has been pushing to cut the limit to $2,500, while urging the State Department to begin revoking passports, which is allowed under the law.)

Welch responds to numerous comments at his blog.


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