Absurdistan in America

In Iowa, the government has confiscated the savings of 11-year-old Rylan Nitzschke. Rylan saved $220 from chores and shoveling snow, but that now belongs to Iowa. Why? Rylan's father allegedly owes child support (to Rylan), and his father's name was on the boy's bank account.

OK, so this is a mistake, and Iowa will return the boy's savings, right? Wrong. State officials have no intention of returning the money. After all, they receive federal funds for each dollar they collect (and for each father they incarcerate). Rylan's piggy bank helps balance the budget.

As Congress prepares to pass the Welfare Reform bill, the Washington Times reports that child support enforcement officials are ecstatic over provisions that will allow them to plunder and criminalize more citizens, using children as the justification. Yet no evidence indicates that there is, or ever has been, a problem of unpaid child support other than that created by the government. The child support “crisis” consists of little more than the government seizing people's children, imposing patently impossible debts on parents (and others) who have done nothing to incur those debts, and then arresting those who, quite predictably, cannot pay.

Now this dishonest and discredited hoax is creating a Western version of "Absurdistan" — the name given by East European dissidents to the Soviet dictatorships that were not only repressive but, at times, simply buffoonish.

West Virginia officials cleaned out the bank account of an 85-year-old grandmother whose son allegedly owed child support. The son paid in none of the $6,450 taken from the account, which comprised her life savings. She was also charged a $75 processing fee.

Canada has a name for such grandmothers: "deadbeat accomplices." These are grandparents, second wives, or other relatives, who can be forced to disclose and part with their savings to government officials.

In California, minor boys raped by adult women must pay child support to the criminals who raped them. "State law entitles the child to support from both parents, even though the boy is considered the victim of statutory rape," the district attorney’s office says. One boy was drugged before the sex. Kansas courts have likewise held that "the issue of consent to sexual activity under the criminal statutes is irrelevant in a civil action to determine paternity and for support of a minor child born of such activity." So much for not letting criminals profit from their crimes.

The elderly can also become targets of rape-for-profit. A disabled 85-year-old man, sexually assaulted by his housekeeper and awarded damages for the assault, was ordered to pay her child support, and his pension was garnished. The court denied him access to the child.

According to the Keystone Cops who enforce child support, a "child" is not a dependent minor but any recipient of their chivalry. “We’ve got some 40- to 45-year-old u2018kids' running around who are owed child support,” says Nick Young, enforcement director in Virginia. In Ohio, a 77-year-old great grandfather who had always paid on time was told he owed $45,000 in back child support and had his wages garnished, even though his youngest child was 46 years old.

In Canada, runaway children sue their parents for child support. In California, a 50-year-old divorce lawyer successfully sued his own parents for child support because, he said, depression rendered him unable to work. Startlingly, such suits were probably intended by a legislature dominated by trial lawyers. Judge Melinda Johnson observed that the statute is "unambiguous," and an attorney notes, “The statute didn’t come about by accident.”

In Canada and Australia, stepfathers are now ordered to pay the custodians of their stepchildren. Stuart Miller of the American Fathers Coalition comments wryly that such rulings open the door to multiple marriages to obtain multiple child support proceeds from multiple men without the inconvenience of multiple children. In fact, this is already happening, as judges allow "double-dipping," whereby both the biological father and stepfather are ordered to pay full child support to the same custodian for the same children.

Child support has little to do with providing for children. Its purpose is to redistribute money — and power — among grown-ups. Iowa officials say the only way Rylan's father can prevent the looting of Rylan's savings in the future is to give the boy’s money to the adult with custody.

But the miracle is that Rylan bothers with chores at all. Rylan's father "owes" his son money, according to the government, not because Rylan earns it through hard work but because his mother divorced the old man. Rylan can simply demand the money of his father, and the state will make him cough it up. Why teach youngsters to work when you can teach them to sue.

Indeed, some states now force fathers to pay college tuition. So kids, don't work to save for college or study hard for a scholarship. If you can convince your mother to divorce your father, the government will force Dad to pay at the barrel of a gun. Once fathers can be forced to pay law school tuition the machine will be completely self-financing.

States create instant deadbeats simply by increasing burdens. In Virginia, the author of sharply increased guidelines, William Rodgers of William and Mary College, tells officials that if they do not like his formula, he would “create a schedule to suit.” Presumably Dr. Rodgers proposes the guidelines he considers fair and reasonable. But if Virginia officials prefer guidelines that are not fair and reasonable, he can provide those too. This is Groucho Marx government: “Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others.”

Thus does child support simultaneously corrupt both public ethics and private morals, turning children into cash prizes and even "cash crops." One girl tells a Toronto newspaper of her savvy career plans: “I’m going to marry a really rich guy, then divorce him," she says. "But first I’m going to have his kids, so I get child support.”

September 24, 2003