I am writing this letter in order to bring to light an important issue that I, along with literally thousands of men, women, and most importantly, children, suffer from. With these words, I hope that many voices will be raised and laws will be changed.
Allow me to explain my personal situation in order to illustrate the problem that I have been facing for years with the child support laws in Hawaii:
About three years ago, my ex-husband with whom I share two daughters with, stopped paying child support. For the five years prior to that, child support payments came in relatively regularly due to the assistance of his employer and the Child Support Enforcement Agency. Communication between the two of us has always been limited to semiannual court hearings. Although I begged him some years back, he chose to not have a relationship with his children after the divorce.
I have not received a payment from him in about three years with his child support arrearage totaling more than $15,000. I work two jobs and still have to make time for their doctor, dentist, and teacher appointments. When I do have the time and opportunity to be with our children, I’m only half-present, because I am constantly worried about providing for their futures. I expected him to find gainful employment soon enough, but that day has yet to come. I have contacted my caseworker at the Child Support Enforcement Agency who has told me that the following measures have been taken:
1) A database is monitored for his social security number when he does acquire employment and his wages will be garnished.
2) Should he receive a tax return, that will be garnished as well.
3) His license has been suspended and possibly his passport.
4) A database of banks is also monitored so that any assets that he may have can be seized as well.
I found out recently that he has come into a large sum of money that he most likely did not put into a bank account under his own name (which means that CSEA could not touch it even if they found it). This is why he has not acquired gainful employment, as he is living off of that and can for many years to come.
During one of many conversations with a representative from CSEA, I asked if anything else could be done, as none of the above activities have motivated my ex-husband to spare one cent to support his children, and the response was, “Not until the laws change.”
The laws DO need to change. There are many laws that protect people in other situations that involve large sums of money, but none that effectively protect the finances of a custodial parent and well-being of their children. In addition, these issues are just as important, if not more important, than common criminal cases as they personally effect the interests and prosperity of thousands of children every day.
Hawaii law should view non-payment of child support as if it were in the same category that corresponds to equivalent criminal activity. For instance, if the state of Hawaii considered a non-custodial parent who chose to actively avoid legitimate employment in order to avoid paying child support a criminal under similar circumstances, they could be punished with imprisonment of up to five years.
Today I had a conversation with the manager of CSEA, Alton Kagawa, and posed a question: Are you aware that Hawaii is ranked last among all states in collecting child support arrearages? This clearly signifies a problem in the system. If I had stolen $10,000 from someone, that would be considered a felony offence, but my ex-husband owes over $15,000. It will soon be over $20,000. That will be theft in the first degree. Do you feel that incarcerating people with this amount of arrearage should be enforced?
His answer was, “No.”
Of course, there are several arguments against this type of enforcement:
1) If the parent is in prison, how are they to be expected to work? The answer is that they are not. Perhaps a work program during incarceration could be instated. However, I guarantee you that the threat of more stringent punishments regarding child support non-payment cases would be a motivating factor for some people and increase the likelihood of continued payments. For the rest of the non-paying parents that would be willing to push the proverbial envelope of non-payment and risk jail time, I’m sure many custodial parents would agree, we would prefer them to be learning their lesson in prison. At least after a short stint in prison, there is a better chance of them coming out willing to get a job, and we probably were not going to get anything during that time frame anyways, so what does it matter?
2) Wouldn’t the cost of incarcerating non-violent criminals only add to the financial drain on the government? Consider the cost of financial assistance, food stamps, childcare, housing assistance, and medical insurance that the custodial parent must seek out for at least one child which also drains taxpayers’ dollars. I’m sure that the majority of taxpayers would prefer to stick the blame where it belongs instead of indefinitely footing the bill of caring for a child that is someone else’s responsibility.
3) By incarcerating deadbeat parents, will it leave a mark on their criminal history, making it even more difficult for them to find employment? I do not want to hurt my ex-husband’s marketability, however, just as the thief chooses to steal, the non-custodial parent makes the choice to not pay. Some states require jobless, non-custodial parents to join an employment program. If those standards are not met, then they may face jail time.
4) Isn’t the government system already saturated with bills and laws that need to be passed? What could be more important than our children and their livelihood? Doesn’t it all begin with them? Isn’t the fair treatment of all citizens the foundation in which this country was built on? If legislation like this, which is designed to protect the interests of our children, cannot be pushed through, what is the point of any new legislation?
I could hire an attorney (if I could afford one and if I could find my ex-husband) in order to serve him court documents. From the last I have heard, he is on Hawaii Island. I could hire a private investigator, if I could afford one of those, too, to sit outside the post office box address that I have (if it is even current) until he eventually shows up.
As of now, if I should die suddenly, my children will become the sole legal responsibility of a man that has refused to speak to them or help them financially in years. The Child Support Enforcement Agency, which has more information concerning his whereabouts than I do, will do nothing to help me find him so that I might be able to serve him papers to gain legal custody in order to make plans for their care should I pass unexpectedly. The thought always haunts me: If I were to die in a car accident suddenly, what miserable life would be waiting for my two girls that I have worked so hard to raise properly in a single-parent household?
Many of the fifty states have enacted more aggressive laws that actively prosecute individuals that refuse to financially support their children. Why is it not the same here?
Why are Hawaii’s children less important than those of other states?
At this point, the only option that I have left at my disposal is to write this letter. A change needs to be made now. Hopefully, with this one, small voice, change will begin. Before attempting to write this, I asked myself, could I possibly be the first to challenge the laws in Hawaii regulating the enforcement of child support? After a quick Google search, I could find nothing making reference to any new legislation. Maybe other single parents are too busy working several jobs and running households by themselves to allocate the time required for the insurmountable task of challenging Hawaii’s child support enforcement laws. Unfortunately, we are not in control of making the laws. We just suffer from the absence of them.