State view: No-procreation order is just one solution to enforce child supportFor the second time in as many months, a Wisconsin judge has ordered a man not to father any more children until he pays past-due child support.
By: Bruce Vielmetti, for the News Tribune
For the second time in as many months, a Wisconsin judge has ordered a man not to father any more children until he pays past-due child support.
If only it were that easy to get a handle on the problem that has vexed families and government for decades.
Last week, Sawyer County Circuit Judge Eugene Harrington ordered John J. Butler, 28, of Hayward not to procreate during his two years of probation unless he first pays off the support he owes for three children — about $5,000, not counting interest. He had been convicted of two felony counts of failure to support. For good measure, the judge added another news-
making condition for Butler: Within three minutes of making the acquaintance of any woman, he must disclose that he’s a felon and a deadbeat dad (“Judge: No more kids for you,” Jan. 17 News Tribune).
In December, Racine County Circuit Judge Tim Boyle made national news when he imposed similar conditions on Corey Curtis, 44, who owed about $90,000 in overdue child support and interest for his nine children. Boyle would have preferred harsher measures. “It’s too bad the court doesn’t have the authority to sterilize,” he said when sentencing Curtis for felony bail jumping and misdemeanor failure to pay child support.
The no-children conditions strike some as extreme and have never been tested, but others see any attention to the problem of unpaid support as a positive.
“Even if the Supreme Court approved, it doesn’t make it less outrageous,” said John Birdsall, a noted Milwaukee defense attorney. “When the government is saying you can’t do this basic human act, it seems beyond the pale.”
Birdsall was referring to a 2001 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that upheld a similar ban on procreation during probation, noting that the trial judge could have sent the defendant in that case to a longer term in prison, which also would effectively have prevented him from fathering any more children during that time. He also had the option of paying the owed support. The decision was 4-3, with all three women on the court dissenting.
The publicity over unusual conditions like those in Butler’s case may or may not speed payment.
But generally, assistance from outside groups and persuasion from the court prompt greater compliance by deadbeat parents, according to Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Carl Ashley, who was presiding over several nonpayment cases in family court last week. He noted that the courts have the power to hold a nonpaying parent in contempt and send them to jail for up to six months. “Yeah, we have this hammer,” he said. “Do we want to use it? No.”
Ashley said he always begins nonsupport hearings by asking the parent — usually fathers — about their children. How many? How old? Have you seen them lately? And if their exchange was on TV, what would people think?
“One size does not fit all,” he said. If a father is trying to be employed, trying to make payments, he’ll likely not be sent to jail. “We want to help you take care of your responsibilities,” the judge said.
Lots of parents need that help.
Other options to entice payment of child support include wage garnishment, tax refund intercepts, liens on cars or professional, occupational or sports licenses, and contempt of court. A few days in jail “usually gets their attention,” said Jim Sullivan, director of Milwaukee County Child Support Services.
And what of judges’ orders to men not to father any more children?
“To the extent it brings the topic around to responsibility to their kids, that’s a good thing,” he said. “We hope they take it on their own, but if not, we’re there with the enforcement lever.”
Bruce Vielmetti is a writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The newspaper’s Karen Herzog contributed to this report.