Over the last two years, I have done a lot of research into the family court system and it's treatment of non-custodial parents. While there are women who are non-custodial parents, most of them remain men. When I began my research I had certain preconceived notions. As I continued to look at things, those notions were challenged.
Recently, the Utah State Legislature passed several laws regarding child support, non-custodial visitation and enforcement of child support and child custody guidelines. As of January 1, 2008 the State of Utah will be able to take up to 75% of a non-custodial parents income while providing no relief based on a second family. A weakly worded bill providing for "mediation" of custody issues was also passed. The "mediation" costs have to be paid by the non-custodial parent and have no legal enforcement...meaning that the police will not enforce a mediation agreement any more than they help enforce a custody agreement entered by a court.
There have been several stories in the news lately regarding family court judges forcing men to pay support for children that are not even biologically theirs and yet the only real media coverage continues to be stories of overworked, underemployed custodial moms who look sympathetic on the evening news. While there are cases of "dead-beats" who don't pay their fair share, it has been my recent experience that those cases are not as prevelant as we are being led to believe.
Many non-custodial parents are being forced into underemployment and poverty situations by a system unfairly biased in favor of the custodial parent. While the custodial parent is given representation by the state, the non-custodial parent is left to either go it alone, or find a way to pay huge retainers for private family law attorneys. They can be jailed for back support due, which is not legal for any other form of debt in this country. They can be arrested and charged with contempt of court, but are never given a trial by jury or access to an attorney .
In short, we provide more rights to convicted child molesters than we do to non-custodial parents. I'm left to wonder where the media outcry for this injustice is. Is it okay simply because we are comfortable assuming that these men (and a growing number of women) must have done something wrong?
Put yourselves in the place of some of these people. You wake up one morning and simply because you are divorced with children, you find that all of your basic civil rights have been stripped from you and there is nothing you can do to defend yourself from it. How would you react?
We hear talk about equal treatment under the law and fair assessment of support. Take a few minutes this week and look into the family court system and laws in your state. Do they seem equal or fair?