The Myth of Deadbeat Dads
I came across a 2003 study from the Urban Institute on uncollected child support in California. In Examining Child Support Arrears in California – the Collectibility Study, I learned that common practices, like not making sure the father was served a summons for his court date, setting default orders if he didn't show up, charging interest, and backdating child support orders were contributing to the fatherless child epidemic. I learned that these, combined with the practice of judges "assuming" income was leaving some low-income fathers with child support orders "4 times higher than it should be," and in some cases, "twice as high as the debtor's net monthly income." According to the Urban Institute analysis, "Three-quarters of California's arrears result from policies and practices that set and keep child support orders at levels that exceed noncustodial parents' ability to pay child support."
Many fathers walk out of the courtroom in shock, owing thousands of dollars in arrears due to backdating and interest, putting them immediately at risk of imprisonment and losing their professional and drivers licenses. Some of these fathers become so overwhelmed they go into hiding, losing all contact with their children. The UI study goes on, "Many child support professionals have come to believe that charging interest, particularly at high rates, is counterproductive and does not serve either the child or the government. Charging interest can make the payment of child support arrears seem overwhelming" to some low-income, non-custodial parents in California "and, possibly, drive them to the underground economy and away from their children."
The Myth of Abusive Fathers
Another thing happens to fathers, and to some mothers, which I would have never expected to find in America, a country I thought stood for justice. With absolutely no notice, no due process of law, judges can, and do, use ex parte orders to remove custody of their children from parents. In From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts - And What Can Be Done about It, sociologist Amy Neustein and family court expert Michael Lesher conclude that "No state should permit a change of custody from one parent or guardian to the other on the basis of an ex parte hearing - that is a hearing of which one parent of guardian does not receive notice. At the present time there are states, including California, that permit such changes without notification to the other parent."
Bryan Godfrey, a 32-year-old California father to a 5-year-old daughter and 12-year-old stepson had the crushing experience of dealing with two ex parte orders. The first one, which came shortly after his wife filed for divorce, granted his wife sole custody and exclusive use of their home, and the second one, five months later, terminated all of his parental rights until further notice. He said, "I was accused of sexual abuse that was determined to be unfounded by the Police, but the judge still terminated my visitation via an ex parte until further evaluation of a psychologist. It has been 17 months since I have seen my daughter."