Time and time again, the child support system’s overemphasis on collecting payments ends up punishing low-income fathers. Or in some cases, it punishes low-income men who aren’t fathers at all.
The latest example comes from Iowa where Joe Vandusen, 45, is being asked to pay child support for a child that he says is not his.
Earlier this month, Vandusen received a letter from the Iowa Department of Human Services telling him he’s required to pay child support to his estranged wife, who he never formally divorced but has barely talked to in the last 15 to 17 years.
Vandusen contacted the Department of Human Services Child Support Recovery Unit to let them know he’s not the child’s father and even offered to take a paternity test to prove as much, but he was told it wouldn’t matter because under Iowa law the husband is presumed to be the legal father.
Iowa law does allow a man to file a request for genetic testing to disestablish paternity, but that involves going to court – something Vandusen can’t afford.
Vandusen, who was recently laid off from his job, can’t afford child support (for a child that isn’t his) and he can’t afford money for an attorney to file for divorce and contest the child support requirement.
The result is a cycle of debt that can have disastrous consequences.
This is just one of many instances that the child support system has drawn media attention for its illogical policies.
Employee ordered to repay child support that was stolen by his employer
Last year, the Albany Times-Union reported on the case of Loubert Legros, who claimed he lost eight months’ worth of court-ordered child support payments that were deducted from his paycheck but pocketed by his employer.
Rather than punishing Legros’ boss, the state still held Legros accountable for nearly $7,000 of missing child support.
Michigan man owes $30,000 of child support for child DNA tests prove isn’t his
In Michigan, the case of Carnell Alexander drew much attention to the issue of paternity fraud, which can devastate entire families.
Alexander was ordered to pay nearly $30,000 in missed child support payments, and faced a potential prison sentence, even though a DNA test proved he was not the child’s father.
Alexander was held responsible because an ex-girlfriend listed him as the father to receive welfare benefits. Due to the state’s lack of paternity fraud laws, which is a national problem, a mother can list anyone as the father without any repercussions.
Walter Scott shot after fleeing police for owed child support
The Walter Scott shooting in South Carolina created a national firestorm after a police officer fired eight rounds into a fleeing Scott’s back.
At the time of the shooting, Scott owed more than $18,000 in child support and had a bench warrant for his arrest. Scott’s parents said they believed the reason he was fleeing the officer was because he feared being sent to jail over the missed payments.
Many facts about the case are still unknown, but the incident did expose the state’s punitive child support system, which is especially harsh on poor parents.