Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican Governor of New Mexico and current presidential candidate, met with Fathers and Families Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS in Manchester, New Hampshire on Thursday, July 21.
Governor Johnson made his support for family court reform clear when responding to questions from F & F activists at several campaign events. At one, Johnson told F & F activists Roy Corbeil and Seth Diamond, “[Family court] is an area that is really ripe for reform…I understand this issue and have researched hundreds of these cases.”
As Governor, Johnson set aside one afternoon per month to spend five minutes with any resident of New Mexico who wanted to meet with him. Many who came to see him were fathers who had been treated unfairly in the family courts. He told Holstein, “family court injustices are one of the great injustices of our time.”
During their hour-long discussion, Governor Johnson asked Dr. Holstein what he could do as President, given that family law is primarily made at the state level. Holstein replied by pointing out that existing federal law is quite detailed concerning the child support programs that the states must have in place in order to receive their federal welfare funds. Because the federal government is already so deeply involved in child support, this could serve as the federal entry point for changes we support. Amending the existing federal statutes on child support would not require a great new legislative initiative, but simply tweaking existing law.
Holstein specifically recommended that Governor Johnson amend the current child support law to require the states, as a condition of receiving welfare monies, to carry out a bi-annual study of child custody outcomes, with a requirement that they demonstrate significant progress towards shared parenting as time went on. This could be justified by citing the evidence that joint custody of children has been shown to be the strongest factor in improving child support compliance.
Holstein then linked the huge federal child support expenditure to Governor Johnson’s other demonstrated priority: aggressive budget cutting. Holstein pointed out that the federal government spends roughly $5 billion per year on child support enforcement. He suggested this was a ripe area for dramatic budget cuts. Most of the federal expenditure is wasted because:
1) In most states, over 80% of the money collected is for current payments, not past due amounts (arrearages). By and large, the current amounts are being paid without government coercion, so much of the work of the collection agencies is unnecessary.
2) Federal incentives reimburse the states for total child support dollars collected. This incentivizes them to focus on big-money cases. In most such cases, the child is perfectly well taken care of financially. This is because custodial parents who were once married to rich people are usually quite well off themselves, either with their own money or with their divorce settlement, or with re-partnering. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money to chase noncustodial parents whose children are financially comfortable, even if those parents are not paying the entire amount that had been ordered. The custodial parent in such cases could pursue this on their own, just as noncustodials must pursue parenting time interference on their own.
3) About 70% of all past-due child support dollars are owed by people who earn poverty level wages. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money to chase such people to collect money they simply do not have. It has been repeatedly shown that even when these people are jailed (at great taxpayer expense to apprehend and jail), little money is collected. Why? Because they do not have it.
4) A sizable percentage of all past-due child support would not be paid to the mothers but instead to the general coffers of the state, in order to recoup welfare costs. When non-custodial parents in these cases pay up, the children are not helped. Rather, the general revenue of the state is improved. In cases where the poor noncustodial parent was helping the kids off the books, their situation worsens when the state takes all the money he has for itself, leaving him unable to continue to help his kids. Thus, the taxpayer is being fooled into the belief that he is helping poor kids when he pays for child support enforcement; instead, in these cases, the federal money is simply a hidden subsidy to the state’s general revenues that does not help poor kids, or may even hurt them.
Afterward, Holstein said:
Governor Johnson appears to be an energetic and talented person who is a genuine believer in gender equality, shared parenting, and family court reform. He seems absolutely genuine in his interest in the injustices of the family courts. He and his two aides listened carefully and asked perceptive questions.
Fathers and Families’ Election 2012 Campaign
Fathers and Families’ Election 2012 Campaign is a nonpartisan grassroots campaign with the goal of injecting family court reform into the 2012 election campaign.
Between now and New Hampshire’s February 14, 2012 primary, our activists will be going to candidates’ campaign stops, rallies, and townhall meetings, as well as calling in when candidates are interviewed on radio talk shows. We will be politely and persistently asking candidates questions about family court reform, with the goal of garnering media attention for our issues and getting candidates to go on the record with their views.
Our central issue is simple—family courts harm children by routinely separating them from one of the two people they love most.
If you would like to participate, please fill out our volunteer form here and type “Fathers and Families’ Election 2012 Campaign” at the beginning of the “How I Can Help” section.