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Open Letter to Child Support Review Committee of Massachusetts Judicial System
September 23, 2005

Dear Child Support Review Officials,

I have never been politically active, in spite of being a CEO of five different Massachusetts companies since 1989, but it has become completely clear to me that this situation is totally out of control and needs major reform, not just minor adjustments. As a result I have made a commitment to help reform the family law system and lend my leadership and management expertise to this cause because I believe it is hurting an entire generation of children.   As an expert in organizational development and a consultant to many CEOs on structuring companies, I feel well qualified to comment on the many problems in this system.  Although I am not experienced in government I have run companies with hundreds of people and understand the issues that create problems as any organization grows larger.
Firstly, the foundation on which the guidelines were built is totally flawed. There is not record or disclosure of this process and the underlying assumptions. The original group was all lawyers and others with a vested interest in the outcome (I have been told), not financial experts.  The very idea that the child's standard of living can be maintained after divorce is a flawed premise.  What more do we need to know other than that Massachusetts has the highest child support in the nation!  It is almost double the average from the statistics I have seen. Since the cost of living is NOT an excuse for this, as this is built into the percentage of salary methodology already, I can only assume that the people who put together the initial guidelines had very little financial and economic expertise. By my analysis child support is about double what it should be in this state. If you look at U.S. government data for the cost of raising a child it is easy to prove the amounts are way too high and essentially place all the financial burden on the father.  I too felt for the "single mom" before I became aware of the true numbers.  Now I feel only for the dad.  Even the lawyers in the family court system state openly that "alimony" is built into these guidelines, and alimony is suppose to be based on "need". It is not appropriate in this day and age, when the wife can earn a living, and the children are in school, except in the special circumstance where the woman has no ability to earn a living. Currently the entire financial burden of a divorce is placed on the father, so much so that it is destroying fathers and their ability to be there for their children. Child support is not just money, as you might define it here, it is time, love, learning and many, many other things. We must have a divorce system that allows these more important things to be imparted to our children, not just money.
No examination of the Child Support Guidelines would be complete without looking at the epidemic of restraining orders issued. With these being an all too common element of a divorce the guidelines MUST take this common factor into account.  Any family court lawyer will tell you that restraining orders are "given out like candy". It is amazing they all know of this abuse, use the same phrase and yet it only gets worse with time.  I see this as a major ethical problem in the system. Lawyers are sworn to improve the system, yet for decades they have ignored this abuse of the system.  Personally I believe this to be completely unconstitutional and a major problem in its own right that is damaging families greatly and increasing divorce rates.  Restraining orders have clearly become standard operating procedure for lawyers and bitter wives to win their divorce before a trial even happens, so they must be accounted for in any financial support system.
The HUGE incentive to get a restraining orders for financial and custody reasons have spun this system out of control. Literally a little white lie gets the wife (almost never the husband) instantly a $500,000 house and full custody of your children and the father does not even get to speak.  He is immediately destroyed financially and emotionally and placed under a cloud of doubt as a criminal.  In Virginia, a state with a similar population to Massachusetts (actually 7.3 million in VA versus 6.4 in Mass.), there are only about 1,500 restraining orders issued per year, versus about 45,000 in Massachusetts!  Do you think men in Massachusetts are 30 times more violent than in Virginia?  Not likely!  I have heard estimates from lawyers that range between 50% and 90% for the percentage of BOGUS restraining orders that are issued as "offensive weapons" in divorce, instead of as defensive weapons for women that actually need some protection. I would estimate that as many as 70% of restraining orders are unwarranted and many attorneys obviously agree. By the way "spectral evidence", any evidence not provable because it is entirely in the mind of the person, was outlawed shortly after the Salem witch trials. So we are back to this kind of situation here, mass panic caused by propaganda and a political environment created by special interests. It is very possible in fact that the 209(a) legislation is not even legal and/or constitutional under much supreme court case law now available, but this is another issue. Your issue is taking into account the effect of this very common phenomenon on child support.
Radical feminists groups, known for their exaggeration of the figures pretend every man is a batterer or deadbeat dad at every opportunity.  I heard a NOW representative on the radio recently claim that "37% of hospital emergency room visits where the result of domestic violence". The real figure is 0.3%, so they exaggerated the number by more than a FACTOR of 100. This propaganda is unbelievable and very successful too, but it is not justice and we expect far more from our judicial system.  This propaganda is essentially getting every father treated as a criminal with the excuse of the worst case being used for every case. This is un-American and against all the foundations and maxims of law that our great country is based on. We have said we would rather have 9 guilty people go free before locking up one innocent person, yet it seems to me that we are knowingly taking away the fundamental constitutional rights of 95 fathers for every five that deserve this treatment.
This means that thousands of fathers (hardly ever mothers) are being thrown out of their homes without notice and without good reason for the comfort and convenience of the mothers. Clearly the domestic violence laws are now doing more harm than good with this level of abuse. So odds are good that the a restraining order is unwarranted and issued under the claim of "fear", not any actual abuse. Then judges refuse to vacate them due to personal fear of media or other reasons, like you can not prove a negative etc. 
What does this do to the financial situation of the family? Well often the judge will order the father to pay all the expenses of the home in ADDITION to child support. Since a typical bank mortgage allowance for (principal, interest, taxes and insurance but NOT utilities) amounts to about 50% of the family's take-home pay, this means that the father's financial responsibilities now look like this when earning an average income of $50,000 and taking home 70% of that after taxes: 
Financial Situation of an Average Father Removed From Home By Restraining Order
Year Month % of Take-Home
Gross Salary  $     50,000  $     4,167 143%
Take-home pay  $     35,000  $     2,917 100%
Home related costs (50% PITI + utilities)  $     17,500  $     1,458 50%
Child Support (at 26%of gross for 2 children)  $     13,000  $     1,083 37%
Remaining income for Father to live on  $       4,500  $        375 13%
It is pretty clear that no one can survive on $375 per month after they have been thrown out of their home, and this is just the average person with $50K income, meaning HALF of the people (if $50K is about a median) are in worse condition financially! In addition the mother now has virtually all her expenses paid and has no reason to work, settle the case or reconcile with dad. She is actually motivated NOT to work or move the divorce forward to hurt the father as additional leverage in the divorce so he can't afford attorneys fees and other basic necessities.
So what do you expect someone in this situation to do to survive? And I do mean SURVIVE literally.  The system has effectively manufactured a criminal. If they don't find money somewhere under the table they can not even eat.  Mostly innocent, good dads who are now placed in an impossible situation through no fault of their own. The father is the real victim here.  So now the father needs to work under the table, starve, live with relatives or friends in conditions not appropriate for their children to visit, live in their car or even leave. Dad's other options are to commit suicide, leave the state, leave the country etc. We have a significant percentage of all these too. Anyone that thinks that this is in "the best interests of the children" does not belong on the bench, or even in this judicial system in my opinion.  In fact, as I testified in Worcester, and is documented in studies footnoted in Warren Farrell's GREAT book "Father and Child Reunion",  fathers commit suicide 9.9 times more often then mothers after divorce. This book should be required reading for all family court judges
Is this system really kinder and gentler, or it is just being kind to custodial parents (95% mothers) and placing ALL the hardship on the fathers? It seems obvious to me from the simple math that the later is true. How could anyone believe otherwise? Many of the current orders issued by the court are impossible for the fathers to follow. Issuing impossible orders is also unlawful for judges, but I have seen it and been a personal victim of this too.  The tendency of the courts to disbelieve fathers is so strong that it seems fathers proving the cases with real evidence are often ignored for the oral claims of mothers.  This causes a spiral down for the father and is obviously harmful to the children. Do we want to show our children that the way to act is to live off the hard work of a husband, ejected from the home, and not work. It would seem this system encourages this situation and makes it very common indeed.
So what tangible and obvious changes in the guidelines does this suggest? Well if a father is paying for the home, and the mother has resources (income OR savings) for groceries and other incidentals then these housing payments should be credited against child support. Otherwise it is clearly double dipping and encouraging the divorce to go on forever.  Unfortunately lawyers benefit financially from these long divorce battles which encourages the level of animosity to rise further, but obviously it is not good social policy and is harmful to the children to allow this to happen.  More than likely in most cases this will totally wipe out the child support payments and be DOUBLE that amount anyway.
Officials involved have admitted this review process is too short, has no budget and that there are major issues to be reviewed. I encourage you to extend the review if necessary but make the obvious adjustments now. Even though federal law requires this review, it does not limit the frequency or place any limit on changes. There should also be participation n the this process by the mothers and fathers under it. It seems this is superficial at best. No company would design its service today without active participation of its customers.
My suggestions for change offered here and at my Worcester testimony:
  1. Remove the disregard entirely to encourage women to work (certainly always after the children are in school or if their income is much greater than child care costs)
  2. Phase down the percentage of child support over a couple of years to half the current level, giving women time to increase their earnings
  3. Eliminate child support altogether when the father is already paying for the home and the wife has other sources to pay for groceries (as encourages her to begin more work). This encourages negotiation instead of dragging on of the divorce process.
  4. Take into account the fact the most restraining orders are not due to actual physical abuse of any kind and that these men should not be treated like criminals until PROVEN guilty. Credit these payments against child support - they are actually both child and wife support only larger.
  5. Extend the process to look at the guidelines to do it right, not fast
  6. Carefully examine the detailed studies used in New Hampshire and DC that are breaking ground and encouraging a fairer and more progressive system that will help children, families and also women become more independent and a better examples for their children.
Good social policy must treat all fairly, not be sexually biased, and certainly not encourage family instability and divorce. The current overly generous guidelines are causing many undesirable and unforeseen effects. Today we are ripping apart the fabric of families by making it so attractive to throw dad out like an old sneaker. I have literally seen a judge create a divorce over a minor lover's spat where one person was simply locked out for the night. Who is to say this would not have been resolved amicably without the "assistance" of the state in this personal matter? Now that family is doomed to divorce. It is the ultimate arrogance to assume that judges can make these decisions in 10 minute informal hearings.  This is no reason to destroy a marriage and home for the children.  Marriage today is like playing Russian roulette with 3 bullets in the six chambers.
We must correct this situation before a generation of children and families are destroyed. The extra child support paid today is not only strong financial motivation for wives to divorce, but also destroying the fathers ability to be there for their children. We MUST reform this system now!
Robert - A concerned father whose children have been kidnapped by the state
(508) 381-1450   Fax: (801) 672-9640