Repeal the Bradley Amendment

When our supposedly compassionate federal government pokes its nose into areas that, under our principle of federalism, should be none of its business, the result is often unintended consequences, gross injustices, and of course massive costs.
A prime example is the 1986 federal Bradley Amendment, which mandates that a child-support debt cannot be retroactively reduced or forgiven even if the debtor is unemployed, hospitalized, in prison, sent to war, dead, proved to not be the father, never allowed to see his children, or loses his job or suffers a pay cut. The result of this incredibly rigid law is to impose a punishment that makes it impossible for any but the very rich to get out from under a Bradley debt.

Thousands of fathers are sentenced to debtors’ prison (a medieval practice we thought abolished in the United States centuries ago), and thousands more have their drivers license confiscated (making it extraordinarily difficult to get a job). There is no requirement that, if and when the Bradley debt is paid, the money be spent on the children, or that the debt be based on an estimate of the child’s needs, or even that the so-called children actually be children (some states require the father to pay for college tuition).
The Bradley debt is misnamed “child support”; it is a court-imposed judgment to punish men and extract money from them to support some mothers and a $3 billion federal and state bureaucracy. Take the case of Larry Souter as reported recently in the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press. He was released after spending 13 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of second-degree murder. He was then summoned to court to explain why he should not be convicted of contempt for nonpayment of his Bradley debt that kept rising during his years in prison: $23,000 in back support plus interest and penalties that raised the total to $38,082.25.
The ex-wife’s attorney argues that Souter should pay because she “has endured the substantial burden of raising her two children without defendant’s contribution of child support.” Because the children are now adults, this case proves that the Bradley debt has nothing to do with child support. It has to do with court-ordered transfer payments from which the state gets a cut. This case is not an anomaly. Clarence Brandley spent 10 years in prison before he was exonerated and released in 1990, whereupon the state hit him with a bill for nearly $50,000 in child support debt that accumulated while in prison.
Many other cases prove that men cannot escape the Bradley debt even if DNA proves that they are not the father. The law even forbids bankruptcy to alleviate the Bradley debt. Three years ago, a Maine court ruled that Geoffrey Fisher no longer had to pay child support for a child that wasn’t his.
But Maine nevertheless demands that Fisher pay $11,450 in back child support and Maine took away his drivers license for failure to pay. The Bradley debt makes no allowance for the growing problem of paternity fraud committed by mothers, estimated by some to be up to 30 percent of DNA-tested cases. Our compassionate government demands that a mother seeking welfare identify the father of her child and, like greedy lawyers, greedy women often target the man with the deepest pockets. A few states have passed a recent law to end so-called child support if DNA proves a man is not the father, but that doesn’t get rid of the Bradley debt accrued before DNA results came in. We haven’t heard of any women being prosecuted for paternity fraud, and of course the man who was cheated doesn’t get any refund.
There is no excuse for Congress and state legislatures allowing these injustices to continue. Court-ordered child support should not be final until DNA proves paternity. Feminist defenders of the Bradley Amendment claim that the Bradley debtor could have reduced his debt by going into court and challenging the amount of support when his income decreased. That argument is legalistic cynicism taken to the extreme.
Most Bradley debtors cannot afford a lawyer to advise them about and to defend their rights, yet they are up against government or government-paid lawyers; the system has built-in incentives to set the support as high as possible because collections bring bonuses to the state bureaucracy; and, according to the Los Angeles Times, roughly 70 percent of fathers in Los Angeles County are not present when the court (not biology) rules on paternity and irreducible monthly obligations are set in concrete.
President George W. Bush’s initiative to promote marriage is a non-starter so long as the Bradley Amendment exists. Who would marry a man with a Bradley debt hanging over his future? Shakespeare famously wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
Since the author of the Bradley Amendment, former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., is still alive, he should tell his pals in the Senate to terminate his evil law before any more injustices take place.
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5 comments on “Repeal the Bradley Amendment

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    I’m a primary custodian Dad. Before our mediated divorce settlement was even final, my ex began her tactics of angry words and ill-will – something she has kept up to this day, almost 5 years later. She has steadfastly refused to pay even the minimal amount of child support we agreed upon, nor has she paid her share of medical bills, nor activity fees, but somehow, she always seems to find lawyer money to bring contempt charges against ME – and I do nothing to interfere in her parenting time. I have been the good guy all along, but I’m tired of having the umbrella up my ass and her opening it. I am specifically waiting until my daughter is near age 18 to go after my ex for the back support, because I know that if I do so now, she will work out on our daughter even though her anger is at me. This may be a law with flaws in it, but when the person who owes the money meets the “deadbeat” criteria, it can be a Godsend. My ex actually drained our daughter’s college fund – $13,000 we had set aside to help with her tuition for college!!! This woman is just no good. Any money I am eventually able to collect will go to replacing the money her mother misappropriated.
    Thanks for letting me express my views. I really enjoy your website and have learned a bunch from visiting here.

    My fiancée has been court ordered to pay back childsupport for a child that has been proven thru DNA not to be his, he is the 5th man tested for the child, the court says they are looking at the best interest of the child, well my fiancée has 1 child, my son, what about his best interest? This is causing so many problems, how is it fair, he can’t get a license, we are paying not only childsupport, but back childsupport, court & lawyer fees, it’s like a lose lose situation that is so not fair to my family. Not to mention the grandmother has full custody & the mother pays nothing, she pays nor owes nothing, so my fiancée who is definitely not any relation to this child is stuck paying the price bc her mother was permisquise, & the mother who has nothing to do with the child gets off scott-free. So not fair. But bc the grandmother has drawn tanf, welfare, foodstamps, medicaid, all of the above & the state wants their money back, so my innocent family is stuck paying the price, why not go after the biological father, or mother for that matter, why isn’t there a limitation that after so many men are tested its the mothers responsibility? This is violating his 13th amendment, it took 4 million slaves to spark our last Civil war, there are 10 million innocent men in this country paying the price for a child that is not theirs…..just saying.

    wow! this is the most ridiculous and fictitious crap i have ever read! the author(s) either intend to cause panic and anger and hysteria (based on their own deep seated animosity they have for the female gender) or they are just severely mentally handicapped.

    I assume you are collection child support then? I am sure you think it’s an entitlement? You are “entitled” to Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness”, nothing more, nothing less.

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