The US Constitution lays out the separation of federal and state responsibilities and one of the clear domains of states is divorce, marriage and family law. However in 1986 strict federal laws passed that forced states to build expensive infrastructure for support enforcement in order to receive federal aid. These changes forced states to change their divorce processes and forced the creation of a huge federal industry for child support collection. The Bradley Amendment of 1986 made divorce a federal issue.
The Bradley Amendment of 1986 was a major milestone for President Clinton’s first term and laid out detailed procedures for the administration, collection and enforcement of child support collection. Senator Bradley of New Jersey sponsored this legislation. States must have expensive and sprawling computer systems in place to deduct support from paychecks, tax refunds, lottery winnings and more. Even more systems must be in place to integrate with the US passport system, IRS and other federal agencies as well as to report to credit bureaus. The Bradley Amendment, under the guise of protecting children, required States to install hundreds of millions of dollars of new systems in order to receive federal aid so states had no choice but to comply.
While the Bradley Amendment lays out detailed computer systems requirements it pays no attention to the circumstance of the parent’s debt. It sets a threshold of $2,500 1986 dollars to place a parent into the federal enforcement system. The Bradley Amendment has no appeal system and doesn’t take into account the great variance in state divorce laws and processes. The Bradley Amendment states that parents must make expeditious support modification requests to avoid arrears but this is simply impossible in most state laws. Under the Bradley Amendment parents who lose their jobs or reduce their incomes for any reason whatsoever are placed into the enforcement system and will immediately be subject to lien, wage garnishment, asset seizure, credit reporting, tax refund and lottery intercept and more. In the Bradley Amendment there is no statute of limitations for divorce enforcement, no court in the USA can reduce the support arrearage for any reason and the debts survive death, bankruptcy and medical incapacitation. A parent with children in their thirties or forties can retroactively collect arrears under the Bradley Amendment without notification to the offending parent. The Bradley Amendment made a new class of super-debt and has created a new class of debtors that have no civil rights whatsoever.
While the supporters of the Bradley Amendment laud their obvious accomplishments of collecting vast sums of child support, they ignore the victims of the system. Victims of the system are responsible parents who pay support and are present in their children’s lives but who hit temporary income speed bumps. Whether the speed bump is deployment, unemployment, illness, jail or any cause, based on the Bradley Amendment divorce debt accrues and subject to mandatory enforcement actions with no chance of appeal or reduction of arrears. Victims are parents who can’t afford attorneys or appeals. Victims are low income earners trapped in a lifetime of wage garnishment and enforcement action with no hope of ever paying down faultless debt. A family who runs into troubled times may lose their homes, savings and more but under the Bradley Amendment the same family that is divorced may spend a lifetime with an 80% to 90% effective tax rate after wage garnishment for the rest of their lives. There are millions of victims living under the permanent and immutable penalties of the Bradley Amendment.
The strength of penalties in the Bradley Amendment, with due process rights explicitly precluded, has given local divorce courts incredible power. Any divorce ruling is subject to federal enforcement with no questions asked. Judges in the smallest courts with no juries or constitutional burdens will have their verdicts enforced by the massive and extensive systems that states are forced to provide as part of the Bradley Amendment.
We have been living with the Bradley Amendment since 1986 and its successes and atrocities have been well documented. But now in 2013 another New Jersey Senator, Bob Menendez-D, wants to take the Bradley Amendment further with the Strengthen and Vitalize Enforcement of Child Support (SAVE Child Support) Act (S.508.). The SAVE act lays out even more procedures and expensive systems that states must adapt to, in Bob Menendez’s own words, collect support from ‘dead-beats’.
New York and New Jersey are known for their powerful and unfair divorce industries but it seems like too much of a coincidence that New Jersey Senators are so concerned about child support collection that their US Senators must lobby so hard for redundant and expensive federal legislation. Besides the welfare of children, which should be the top priority of every State in the US, what makes it so interesting for multiple New Jersey senators to propose massively expensive and complicated computer systems to further strengthen the federal child support collection systems?
One place to find the answer to this question is to check the lobbying activities behind this bill. A quick search of Opensecrets.org shows that the only lobby for this bill working with Bob Menendez is the National Child Support Enforcement Association.
The NCSEA is the trade organization of the Child Support Enforcement industry and a review of their conference speakers show that this industry is driven largely by payment processors and networks, divorce professionals and employees of state divorce industries. Ultimately state divorce industries and businesses who process payroll and create government computer systems are the ones who see the most financial benefits from massive federal programs that SAVE and the Bradley Amendment mandate and as it turns out, these are the supporters of the NCSEA.
Digging a little deeper ADP, headquartered in New Jersey, is the largest processor payroll in the United States and they play a predominant role in the corporate sponsorship of the NCSEA. The powerful New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg was the CEO of ADP before entering into politics and this connection has made ADP a very powerful company in New Jersey. Companies like ADP are the ones who see the most financial benefit from massive federal programs that mandate payroll collections and new government computer systems and it makes perfect sense why Bob Menendez, and not Frank Lautenberg, would sponsor a bill that benefits ADP and other payment processors so greatly.
The Bradley Amendment of 1986 has destroyed the lives of millions of innocent parents with draconian penalties that supersede the power of any court in the USA and often times defy logic. The bill assumes that any parent who has arrears of more than $2,500 (limit set in 1986) is a criminal and subject to vast computerized enforcement systems. Senator Menendez and the NCSEA are proud of all the dead-beats they are punishing but they ignore the realities that drive parents to arrears. They ignore the unconstitutional courts that create impossible financial situations that many parents face and they ignore the normal rhythms of life such as illness, recession and unemployment that can lead to arrears.
I’m all for supporting children and being a responsible parent but I’m also for transparency in government and it’s time for Senator Menendez to come clean and admit the true motivation for his bill. Any bills that propose massive federal computer systems that states are forced to join must have a careful cost-benefit analysis before implementation. In this case the cost to tax-payers is extremely high and the beneficiaries are clearly the companies who maintain and create payment networks. A quick review of the sponsors of the NCSEA verify who benefits from strict collection laws including Xerox, HP, ADP, Maximus and other payment processors. A line must be drawn between the interests of children and families and the interest of payment networks lobbying for more garnishments and payment processing rules. Ultimately these companies are lobbying for further federal regulation in State matters and ruining the lives of millions with indiscriminate, computer generated enforcement actions that bypass due process procedures.