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Every year 24,000 men commit suicide. Every 22 minutes one male commits suicide. Based on the fact that a divorced male is 2.5 to 3 times more likely to commit suicide than the average male, the estimate for divorced men, most likely fathers since there is tremendously more trauma placed on them, committing suicide every year would be 15,000 to 18,000 men. When will it stop? How will it stop? Where is the men's backlash? Many splintered equal parenting groups are asking the same questions.

One small group of 13 fathers, Hunger Strike for Justice, has pledged to start a hunger strike on September 25, 2003 in an effort to break the media blockade and the lack of government address of family, children and individual rights. Their determination, resolve and effectiveness is yet to be tested, but, they have had enough of injustice.

Felons can't vote. The dead can't demonstrate. Men running from incarceration can't take legal remedies. Jail severely limits protesting and information dissemination. Those that are stretched to their limit have neither the effort, nor the time to do very much, except to be with their children when they can, if they can. Many that would fight this deadly system see no hope and have been crushed, emotionally, financially and spiritually. Many are afraid they will lose the little access they have to their children if they make waves. Media ignores the problems being caused and promotes the deadbeat bandwagon. The government does the same, while spending billions more than they collect in the child support scam and even more billions for those incarcerated. That just does not leave many left to be activists.

It is estimated that the total national number of incarcerated fathers for failure to pay child support is 250,000. Some believe the number is closer to 400,000. According to the Missouri legislative report, in 1998 there were 1,770 misdemeanor failure jailings and 900 felony jailings. Every year, there has been more and more hysteria to lock up "deadbeats" by the states. The author has seen similarly populated states in the 4,000 range in years 2000 and 2001. It's not hard to see those numbers could very well be true. ***

I was in Obligor's Prison this summer for 114 days for $5500 in back child support, $3000 in unpaid spousal support and another $3000 in attorney's fees. I was paying $300 per month which was my current child support but could not pay the additional $200 per month on the arrears. Tarrant County Texas wanted to release me after 45 days in jail but the judge ordered them to hold me until I paid up. I was finally released after 114 days after I again testified (twice) as to my inability to pay. This is the reason our Constitution prohibits debtors prison. The legal community has found a way to resurrect it for their financial gain. Maybe when enough of us have endured this we will rise up together to put an end to this legal abuse. One thing is certain, my 5 year old daughter is way worse off as a result of this judicial abuse because she lost her summer with her dad. And I'm falling farther behind because I'm unemployable now. ***

Why did the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) provide free legal services to my ex-spouse after she was found in contempt of court for her violations of the support agreement? DCSE's intervention enabled her to keep $10,000 in garnished support overpayments which the court had ordered credited to me. Not only that, it cost me thousands in legal fees to obtain this dismal result! (note 1) Charlottesville, Virginia, situated near Monticello, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson, is also the location of the Albemarle County Circuit Courthouse. And it was in this court on December 10, 2001 that a hearing was held and a decision handed down which dealt a devastating blow to divorced fathers in Virginia. (note 2) But first, there's a bit of necessary background to the story.

Since separating from my ex-spouse in 1992, I've spent the past nine-and-a-half years struggling to make ends meet, despite having a good job. I've had to make a number of sacrifices in order to maintain the monthly court-ordered child support payments to my ex-spouse, including taking a job across the country away from my kids, and cashing out my retirement funds to keep the payments up-to-date. While my standard of living has declined despite working longer hours, my ex-spouse's economic standing has continually improved since her remarriage in 1995.

My support payments are calculated according to a separation agreement, a contract drawn up between my ex-spouse and me and incorporated into our divorce decree several years ago. It specifies a recalculation on June 1 of each year, using the combined incomes of the parties and the Virginia support guidelines. It is worth noting that my ex-spouse is the only one who has benefited financially from this arrangement in the past. But in June of 1999, when a recalculation stood to benefit me for the first time, my ex-spouse balked and refused to provide the financial information required for a recalculation.

It took two years of negotiation and finally litigation before I was able to get a support recalculation. The Honorable Paul Peatross, in his written ruling of May 31, 2001, (note 3) recalculated support according to the terms of the separation agreement. He awarded me a $12,000 child support overpayment credit, while also finding my ex-spouse in contempt of court for her failure to provide the financial information required for a recalculation.

It cost me over $10,000 in legal fees and other expenses to get enforcement of the contract, which I had to finance through personal loans and credit card advances. I planned to use the $12,000 in credit to pay down my large debt for legal fees as well as the $3,000 in "arrears," an accounting artifact of not having a support recalculation done since November of 1997.(note 4)

In addition to the award of overpayments, the court awarded me legal costs in the amount of $500. This was a very small sum considering the explicit language in the separation agreement stating that expenses incurred in enforcement of the agreement by litigation are the sole responsibility of the non-compliant party (note 5). Perhaps the judge felt that since the prevailing party (me) had won $12,000 in credit for overpayments, there wasn't a need to award "extra" legal fees on top of it all. Considering what it actually cost me to get enforcement of the agreement, I am very disappointed at what little weight the court gave the contract's specific provisions for attorney's fees.

But, all that being said, this is where the story should have ended. Instead, after the hearing on May 25, 2001, but before the judge signed an order embodying his May 31, 2001 written ruling, my ex-spouse took a surprising new step: she quit the services of her private attorney in Charlottesville, Mary-Susan Payne, who had previously handled her case. Instead, she enlisted the free legal services of Virginia DCSE in an attempt to get a second trial and overturn the court's previous rulings in my favor. It was Drew Swank, a lawyer with the Charlottesville office of DCSE, who took the extraordinary step of filing a pile of new motions and legal briefs in the case (note 6) -- essentially trying to overturn the May 31 ruling in its entirety and also trying to legally invalidate the very contract that my ex-spouse had held me to all those years (while it benefited her financially to do so). The gloomy prospect of my having to pay thousands of dollars in new legal fees for a "start from square one" trial loomed very large at this point.

But wait isn't the DCSE's job supposed to be enforcing child support orders issued by the courts, rather than mounting legal challenges to separation agreements already incorporated into divorce decrees or trying to overturn contempt findings against non-compliant custodial parents?

Virginia DCSE's actions in this case leave the clear and disturbing implication: it's perfectly fine for custodial parents who violate separation agreements to receive free legal representation from DCSE, at taxpayers' expense, to mount legal challenges to valid agreements-while divorced fathers must pay thousands in out-of-pocket legal expenses just to get enforcement of those agreements. Isn't Virginia DCSE overstepping its bounds here?

As a consequence of DCSE's intervention in my case, another hearing was held on July 19, 2001. In a new written ruling, Judge Paul Peatross denied the various motions of DCSE, with one important exception. The court, upon its own motion, in light of a legal brief filed by DCSE, requested still another hearing to determine its own authority to modify support, as it had in its May 31, 2001 written ruling.

Another hearing was finally held on December 10, 2001. And in a ruling which dealt a devastating blow to divorced fathers in Virginia, the Court reversed its May 31, 2001 ruling and took the position that it now lacked the authority, under Code Section 20-108 of the Code of Virginia of 1950,to order a recalculation as specified in its May 31, 2001 decision. (note 7) So, after being found in contempt of court for violating the separation agreement, my ex-spouse was allowed to keep $10,000 of the support overpayments I had been forced to make through DCSE wage garnishments. In addition, it cost me over $10,000 in legal fees and other expenses just to obtain this dismal result, for a total of $20,000 in out-of-pocket costs! The court's interpretation of the statute, its legal "logic" if you will, worked like this: it agreed my ex-spouse signed a legally binding contract (separation agreement), which was later incorporated into our divorce decree.

But since I chose to first negotiate with my ex-spouse to seek compliance with the agreement - rather than immediately file a lawsuit against her - I forfeited the right to a recalculation of support for all time prior to the date the lawsuit was filed!

Many questions come to mind in light of the court's December 10, 2001 decision. Will DCSE now initiate legal reviews of all incorporated separation agreements within the Commonwealth-hoping to secure the "best deal" for their clients, including non-compliant custodial parents? Will the new ruling help to open a floodgate of new litigation in Virginia, brought by divorced fathers who find they must file lawsuits just in order to maintain their legal standing in self-executing separation agreements?

The court's final ruling not only emboldened my ex-spouse in her open defiance of the rule of law and the courts, but also de facto rewarded her in substantial financial terms for her contempt-of-court. With this result, I couldn't feel any more powerless than I do now.

Meanwhile, without a new support order from the court, Virginia DCSE continues to garnish my wages for support overpayments, based upon a November1997 ruling which includes payments to my ex-spouse for our oldest son. He graduated from high school in June 2000, works a full-time job and will celebrate his twentieth birthday this coming June.

Virginia is for lawyers, but not divorced fathers. And the treatment I've received as a divorced father and non-custodial parent only serves to highlight the serious flaws and injustices which exist in the child support enforcement policies, court system and laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Contact information:
Lawrence White


Endnotes

  1. Albemarle County Circuit Court, Charlottesville, Virginia. Case #:Chancery No. 9139-C. The Honorable Paul Peatross presiding. 501 E. Jefferson Street, Charlottesville, VA 22902.
  2. The December 10, 2001 decision is a verbal ruling and there is no signed order by the court embodying this decision. Questions regarding the specifics of the ruling can be directed to the Clerk of the Court at the above address.
  3. The ruling letter is contained in the case file. Please see note (1) above for complete case information.
  4. The hearing was held on November 25, 1997 and the ruling from that hearing was incorporated into an order dated March 6, 1998.
  5. See Separation and Property Settlement Agreement dated September 7,1993, pg. 8, sec. 16: Enforcement of Provisions of Agreement.
  6. Motions filed in Albemarle County Circuit Court by Virginia DCSE on July 6, 2001. Charlottesville DCSE, 2385 Hunters Way #5, Charlottesville,VA 22911. Office: (434) 984-9907, fax: (434) 293-8001.
  7. Please see note (2) above.

CHILD SUPPORT CASUALTIES

Ed Ward, MD
July 27, 2003
http://mensnewsdaily.com/archive/w/ward/03/ward072703.htm

Randy Orville Brouse, 33, of Illinois, when jailed for felony failure to pay child support, hung himself on July 21, 2003. Prior to his death, he was one of 50 Hillsdale County's "Most Wanted". All are alleged to be dangerous and wanted "for serious and often violent crimes". In fact, more than 60% are wanted only for failure to pay child support. The Hillsdale's dangerous, "Most Wanted" list of those unable to pay the court ordered amount of child support consists of 32 people of the 51 Most Wanted. Randy is still on the list. How many of these dangerous felons will take Randy's place on the Hillsdale mortuary slab before these atrocities end?

According to the unConstitutional family court's rulings, that made the "Most Wanted" financially responsible for amounts they are unable to pay and visitors to their children, the public is to believe these 32 parents would rather, have their driver's license revoked, lose their voting rights, lose access to firearms for defense of home and self-protection, lose their job and ability to find a job, be incarcerated and even to be forced to the point of taking their own lives, than pay money to support their children. The problem is, even after their children have been stolen from them, most have paid all they can and are NOT ABLE to pay anymore.

Trevor Goddard, 37, of North Hollywood, California, committed suicide on June 8, 2003. Goddard was at the height of his career. His credits include, Mortal Kombat, Men of War, JAG, Deep Rising, Gone in 60 Seconds, and the recently released, Pirates of the Caribbean. Few know that Trevor was in the middle of a divorce and finding out just what that means to a loving father. There were many articles on his death, but, only one mentioned his pending divorce.

Unknown man, unknown age, of Kendallville, Indiana, committed possible suicide in the only article released on his death. There was no response, the typical media response, to the email sent by his close friend to the 22 email addresses at kpc news. When this article is pubished, the author will send them the address of this article, the name of the unknown man, the link to their story, the link to the email to them, ask them their secrets to sound sleep and ask them, again, to do a follow-up story on James Betzner. They must have some great remedies to sleep after ignoring the email sent to them and still not publishing another story. Will those remedies work for the next unknown man article?

Robert R Steadman, 33, of Sewickley Township, Pennsylvania, hung himself in April, 2003 during his second imprisonment for failure to pay child support. Since Robert was only one sentence of the story dealing with suicide watch policy changing for that prison, it is unknown if this second jailing was a 90 day recycle. The recycle is a jail term of 90 days. After 90 days, the prisoner is released, only to be greeted by another incarceration for failure to pay child support for 90 days and the cycle is continued.

Reinaldo Rivera, 25, of New Jersey was jailed for failure to pay child support. He hung himself with a sheet after one week in jail in April, 2003.

Mark Edward Dexel, 42, of Canada hung himself on January, 23, 2003 in a Kamloops motel after he was banned from seeing his son by the Canadian family courts.

Derrick K. Miller, 43, of San Diego, California, walked up the steps courthouse steps to the San Diego family court's security guard on January 7, 2002. Miller had recently been judged to pay support he obviously did not have. While holding his divorce papers in one hand and pulling a pistol in the other, he told the guard, "You did this to me!". Derrick quickly pulled the trigger, on the only option left to him and many other fathers, that sent a bullet through his head and died.

Carl Tarzwell, Jr., 37, was arrested on June 20, 2001, for failing to pay child support. Carl hung himself within a few hours of being jailed. Carl's death was revealed in a November, 2001, article dealing with excessive suicides in prison.

James Gunter, 45, an emergency services police officer, described as "one of those steely, go-to guys, a natural in a crisis", took his life on the third try while incarcerated for the third time. James was arrested for failing to pay child support and failing to stay away from his ex-wife. Gunter's daughter stated, "He couldn't stand to be away from his kids,". James Gunter found peace on September 15, 2000. It was not until March 24, 2002 that Jame's story became noted by the press in a story about jails being at fault for lack of care in suicides.

Randy Johnson, 34, of Sommerset, Kentucky hung himself on the second day of his incarceration for felony failure to pay child support in January, 2001. He could have been sentenced to 5 years. Johnson worked for the Sugar Shack making donuts. His employer said he was trying to lead a new life. Johnson's story is revealed in an article about suicides in Boyle County prison.

Darren Bruce White, 34, of B.C., Canada, killed himself sometime between March 12, 2000 and March 17, 2000, when his body was found. Darren's suicide came shortly after a court ruling he was capable, something US family courts are also known to do as attested by the author in his personal experience, of paying $2,071 a month in support. The court had no concern that he was paying $439 a month support in his first marriage and was only making $950 a month salary. White's daughter, Ashlee, expresses her grief regarding the current system.

Dimitrius Underwood, 22, the defensive end for the Miami Dolphins, slashed his throat with a kitchen knife when the Lansing police tried to arrest him for failing to pay child support. Dimitrius's story, due to his notoriety, was published quickly on September 28, 1999. But, as usual, the article only dealt with the effect and not the cause.

David Guinn, 38, incarcerated for probation violations and was behind on his child support, hung himself on November, 1998.

James A. Poore, 33, of Bristol, Tennessee, arrested for failing to appear at a child custody hearing, found a shotgun while on a work release program and promptly blew a hole in his chest in March, 1999. Sheriff Eddie Barnes stated it would not stop the work release program.

Kenneth Taylor, 40, of Nebraska, hung himself while jailed for felony child support in November, 1999.

Fathers For Equal Rights is such a great help to people in need!
  -- Joe & Rachel B. - Fort Worth, TX

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