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Helen Smith

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January 13, 2012 - 4:37 pm

I was working on some continuing education articles today on legal issues and came across the case of Turner vs. Rogers that I thought would be of interest to readers here. In this case (which examines child support) according to an article on mental health and medical rights by Steven R. Smith, JD:

…the question was whether there is a right to have appointed counsel in such civil contempt proceedings. Typically, such civil contempt findings must be based on the fact that there is a valid child-support order, and that the noncustodial parent was able to comply with it, but failed to do so.

In a 5-4 decision the Court held that the state is not necessarily obligated to provide counsel for indigent parents facing incarceration for civil contempt related to the failure to pay child support. At a minimum, however, states must have in place procedures to ensure “a fundamentally fair determination of the critical incarceration-related question, whether the supporting parent is able to comply with the support order.”

There is much more to this case than the lack of counsel being provided that I will not get into here but I was disappointed to see that Justice Clarence Thomas authored a dissenting opinion:

Thomas further argued (with Justice Antonin Scalia, but not Chief Justice John G. Roberts or Samuel Alito joining) that the majority opinion did not consider the effects of this decision with respect to child support payments, and expressed concern that the majority opinion would undermine state efforts to collect child support payments.[4]

What didn’t surprise me is how many people (my guess is mostly or all men) are imprisoned for not paying child support:

A person being in arrears on child support payments is not unusual: in 2008, 11.2 million U.S. child support cases had arrears due.[1] The number of persons kept in jail or in prison for child support arrears is not generally tracked. Based on a publicly available collection of relevant data, an estimated 50,000 persons are kept in jail or in person [sic]on any given day in the U.S. for child support arrears.[2] Hence Turner v. Rogers does not merely concern a technical question of legal procedure. Being in arrears on child support payments is a situation that many persons experience. Moreover, as a result of child support debt, many persons in the U.S. are being imprisoned.

If 50,000 on any given day is accurate, it is unbelievable how many men are being kept in jail for owing money. Many people feel that child support is a different kind of debt but I disagree. Debtors’ prisons are long gone, so much so that people are actually nonchalant and even contemptuous about owing others money. They know that jail is not an option for them.

I believe that the jails are full of fathers because of their sex exclusively. We have a higher percentage of deadbeat moms, but few are held accountable and I doubt that many, if any, of the 50,000 in jail on any given day are female. Why does our society allow men to be thrown in jail this way? Are there that many chivalrous men and white knights like Thomas out there who believe that men’s rights end when it comes to reproduction? Are there that many totalitarian women out there who believe that a man in jail is par for the course and a source of smug satisfaction?

Given how many of our nation’s men sit in jail over child support, I guess the answer is a resounding “yes.”

We continue to legalize misandry but at what cost?

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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