Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Randy Jurado Ertll
We need to revise our approach to fathers who fall behind in their child support payments.
Too often, they lose all custody of their children, and they often end up in jail, especially if they are black or Latino.
The county and court system is biased toward giving full custody to mothers since the stereotype has been established that minority fathers are unfit to be parents.
Many counties use outdated child support formulas and a punitive cookie-cutter approach to any father who is behind in his child support. This is especially the case when it comes to Latino or black fathers who become unemployed.
Counties typically report delinquent child support payments to all of the credit bureaus. Then the attorneys for the counties gather information that will be eventually used against the father. They want to know why he can't obtain a job, even when the economy does not allow millions to find employment.
They make the father fill out tons of legal paperwork, which can result in thousands of dollars paid to family law attorneys. But many low-income fathers cannot afford to hire adequate legal representation, and so they are at an even bigger disadvantage.
Most counties proceed to take the driver's license of the father away, which makes it more difficult for him to find or keep a job. Ultimately, counties file criminal charges against the father, who may end up in jail for noncompliance of child support.
That's how counties, through their Department of Child Support Services, turn many minority men into criminals.
The vicious circle gets even more vicious, as these fathers then will have an even harder time finding a decent job once they are released from prison with a criminal record and a ruined credit history.
There has to be a better way.
Yes, the mother deserves child support, and the child deserves it, too. But when the father cannot pay it, due to no fault of his own, counties and courts should not throw the book at him.
Almost every father wants to provide for his child. Let's make it easier, not harder, for him to do so.
Here's one way to do it: Take part of the money from Child Support Services and put it toward job training for fathers. Give them a chance to take this route, rather than force them down the path to prison.
Copyright Randy Jurado Ertll.