DIVORCE AND CHILD SUPPORT ARE EVISCERATING MILITARY RECRUITMENT
Military recruiting is quickly turning into a home-front disaster. ROTC recruitment is down 16% over the past two years. Active-duty Army recruitments were 27% below the goal for February 2005, despite a $20,000 recruitment bonus. And the Army missed its April recruitment target by a whopping 42%.
Certainly, the prospect of extended combat duty in the war on terror may be discouraging enlistment. This is the oft-mumbled mantra we hear explaining-away the shortfall. The possibility of activity in either North Korea or Iran is perhaps also discouraging enlistment.
But there are still plenty of good reasons to enlist. On the positive side, the worst is over for us in Iraq. Iraqi freedom fighters are taking most of the heat. Fatalities and injuries were historically low in Iraq because our high-tech capabilities made it all but impossible for the enemy to touch us. It is still very hip to be patriotic – even if your name happens to be “John Kerry”. The economic recovery in the job sector is well underway -- albeit predominantly in the low-income job sector – but not enough to compete seriously with military recruiting.
But if you are poor and need a good education and career, nothing has changed. The military is the best way to get out of poverty and build a better life. And if you have a James Bond complex, there is no better place to live it out.
But men are inexplicably staying away in droves. What is the real reason why men are not enlisting?
Men are not stupid. They have learned that when they are patriotic and join the military, the chances are better than 50% that they will end up divorced and come home to a huge child support debt and perhaps even a jail cell on criminal nonsupport charges.
Divorce rates in America are still over 50%. For the military it is even higher -- albeit nobody knows exactly what the real number is since the Pentagon doesn’t report home-front casualty rates.
It is assumed that the military divorce rate is higher than in the civilian population because the stresses on families in the military are much higher.
This is only the “popular” part of the answer. Easy no-fault divorce, child support (with hidden alimony) entitlements, and chronic mistreatment of men in divorce are the real reasons.
Consider the advantages of marrying and divorcing a military man. If a woman is married to a military man for merely one day, she can collect up to half his pension if she divorces him. And there is no limitation on how many times a woman can do this.
Secondly, the best time to divorce a man is when he cannot defend himself because he is on the other side of the world. It is quite simple to seize the family, get a hefty (temporary) support order, and move on. That’s the beauty of no-fault divorce. You do what you want while the husband pays the costs and assumes the fault by default.
A man on duty overseas can be hit with a surprise divorce, lose everything he owns, and have a “temporary” child support order levied against him. There is nothing in any federal or state law or the SSCRA requiring that child support orders be based on real contemporary income.
Courts are quite likely to base the child support order on imputed civilian pay – which is commonly much higher than military pay. It is not exceptional to see military men paying over half of their pretax income as child support.
It is worse for reservists. A divorced male reservist can end up owing more in child support than he earns on his military paycheck. And there isn’t much he can do to change it. Jeffrey Leving and Glenn Sacks cover this in their article “Laws Must Protect the Rights of Military Dads.”
Blasting our military men from the rear flank
The U.S. military suggests reservists seek a support modification when called into active duty. The Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF) instructs similarly.
The ACF has plenty of information about how to get child support levied against a military person, and gets full cooperation from the Pentagon. But the ACF has almost nothing to help the military person get it fixed. This is the first clue what lies ahead for the average serviceman.
Where only 4% of civilian men are able to get support modifications, we can safely say it far more difficult to accomplish from a tent in Iraq.
Courts and DCSE tribunals are unlikely to support reservists due to perverse incentives. State interests lie in maximizing child support orders and collections, for this boosts federal funding entitlements.
I am told that courts and support agency tribunals normally take the position that since the reservist “chose” to go into the reserves, he does not qualify for a modification to match his pay. One reservist said he saw an article indicating that only 3% of reservists get a reduction in child support.
Caught between Iraq and a hard place
There is no federal requirement that support orders must be based on military pay, and no guarantee a modification will be granted. Many reservists have only 72 hours to report for duty – not enough time to even get the attention of a system that generally refuses to treat men fairly in the first place.
This delivers military men directly into the clutches of criminal federal and state child support laws. If a man becomes either $5,000 or six months (FILO basis of accrual) in support arrears, he becomes a felon. He then automatically loses his passport, driver’s license, business license, professional licenses, and vehicle licenses. If convicted, he loses his right to vote in most states.
Criminal and civil support collections laws do not allow a defendant to claim a reason for not paying as a defense. The only question before the court is: “did you pay it or did you not.”
Neither the federal government or states have taken steps to plan for this situation. This planning is primarily a federal responsibility because military service is for the United States Military, not the individual states.
Pro-marriage, pro-family, patriotic reform is needed
This is a federal economic abuse of our men (military and otherwise). Taxes change automatically depending on one’s income. There is no reason why child support orders should not automatically adjust the same as taxes do.
There is no moral, ethical, or legal justification for treating divorced men any differently than we treat married men. Child support should always be assessed against actual monthly income, and nothing else.
Obviously, it will take Congress some time to decide how to normalize and regulate child support orders at the federal level. This must be accomplished from fresh pro-marriage paradigms, vigorous policy analysis, appropriate debate and thorough hearing.
In the meantime, Congress must pass emergency legislation to provide automated emergency support modification services to servicemen; to require that ACF gets support orders modified on behalf of servicemen in cooperation with the U.S. military. These orders must be based on military pay, exclude items commonly regarded as “alimony”, and capped at maximum percentages of income.
The Bradley Amendment, which forbids retroactive correction of even the most outrageous state child support orders and errors, must be retired. “Forgiveness” legislation must be passed to correct the system-wide problems of the past (which were largely caused by state-level conflicts of interest, collusion, and mismanagement).
Legislation must be passed to stop serial looting of military men. A woman who has been married to a military man for less than ten years should not have rights to any portion of his pension, and she should not have rights to even half his pension unless they are married at the time he retires.
Fourteen years of heavy military casualties on the home front
In 1991, just after we went into Iraq, I got legislation passed in Missouri to protect reservists called into active duty for a period of more than thirty days. It was the easiest piece of legislation I ever worked on. We can thank former Representative Bill Skaggs(D) for being the first legislator in the United States to do the right thing.
It took only six weeks to get the legislation through both the Missouri House and Senate due to the universal bipartisan support. Astonishingly, fourteen years later, Missouri is still the only state providing any protection whatsoever for our military men – and Congress is still asleep in the cockpit.
In 2001, I met with Senator Elizabeth Dole and Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness. They both strongly agreed that the problem of child support in the military needs to be corrected, and indicated they would be willing to help. More recently we have seen sensible articles from Phyllis Schlafly and Wendy McElroy, who both stridently call for change.
Ponder this: The situation we face today exists solely because the feminist cohorts of Jane Fonda spent forty years enacting antisocial, vitriolic social policies which are now destroying the military exactly as Jane attempted to do during the Vietnam war.
Read my lips: If we want to rebuild the freedom to be patriotic, we must first free the American family from the virtually seamless fabric of anti-family feminist policy which presently drives nearly all aspects of federal and state social spending.
One reservist who had enough
Gordon Dollar was a reservist for sixteen years serving in the National Guard and the Naval Reserves, working in Military Intelligence.
Prior to activation, the Arizona DES failed to account for his child support payments correctly, and garnished him erroneously. They took 30% of his civilian pay, and refused to stop the garnishments despite affidavits from his ex-wife stating that he was current on support. A senator finally got the garnishments stopped, but the state never corrected the accounting problem.
Then he was called into active duty … for which the Arizona DES rewarded him by incorrectly garnishing 60% of his military pay.
Gordon was shocked: “I was being called up for service in Iraq. I called the Arizona Attorney General's Office to ask what I could do. My nation wanted to me to go defend the country, and then put me in jail when I returned, because the pay in the Army isn't even a livable income. AAG Office said it would take a year at the earliest to adjust my support if they agreed it would be adjusted. There was no guarantee that support would be reduced to reflect the reduction in income due to no fault of my own.”
The garnishment information tainted his military record and was causing him problems. As Gordon puts it, “I forgot to mention that Governor Janet Napolitano called when I was denied access to the court for the sixth time to resolve this matter, to tell me ‘I know you pay your child support, but I cannot give you a letter to put in your military file to counter the negative information now in there, due to Arizona Department Of Economic Security/Child Support Department. When the background check is performed, you (Gordon) can have the investigators call me.’ She then gave me her direct number.”
Gordon has spent five years and written over two hundred letters trying to clear this matter up. And it still isn’t cleared up.
Gordon identified another serious problem -- soldiers being charged for their own equipment: “I will give you an example of one of the problems. If one should lose any gear the soldier will be charged for the gear. I hear this is true even while in combat. The public doesn't hear about these types of policies. I know first hand this is true, because I was charged for gear that was supposedly lost, or in my possession. I tried to dispute it, but the time frame to dispute had elapsed because it took them a year to find me. So they deducted $500 from my pitiful National Guard money. My checks were so small, I just stopped cashing them.”
Here is a question for everyone, (regardless of your political affiliation): Who is going to volunteer to serve in a military that makes you choose between survival and running back into the line of fire to retrieve something so you don’t get charged for it? When are the proponents of the “culture of life” going to weigh in on this meaty issue?
I asked Gordon if child support was a big problem in the military. He responded, “I asked an officer about the child support and back charges for equipment. He told me these are big problems in the Army. I don't know the definition of "big," but it is significant enough … I have friends that are very motivated and dedicated people, Frogmen/SEALS, Green Berets, and Rangers, and they were getting out too. In short, I think people who served this country are feeling betrayed by it, and see no point in serving it."
Gordon’s solution: “I told my unit that I'm getting out, and they can go recruit some judge's son/daughter to go die for the ridiculous laws they enforce. I already had two honorable discharges and had done my time. I regret that I ever served this nation.”
Backing our military men – a critical issue of national security
This has risen to become an issue of national security. Our failure to address the dual problems of irresponsible (feminist) divorce, and the usurious child support (nee welfare) system, has left us with too many men unwilling to risk being demolished and criminalized at home while being shot at overseas.
Congress should not delay taking up corrective legislation. Both parties will certainly agree that enlistment is crucial– and anything preventing it is an issue of national security. The ”draft” is a well-known political land mine which neither party dares to step on.
There is only one way out of this problem. If we want men to be patriotic, we must mean it when we say that we “back” our men in the military.
We have heard all the words. We are still waiting for decisive action from President Bush and Congress to finally bring these pro-marriage values into play for the benefit of all men, women, and children.
© 2005 David Usher - All
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David R. Usher is Legislative Analyst for the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Missouri Coalition And is a co-founder and past Secretary of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children
It is worse for reservists. A divorced male reservist can end up owing more in child support than he earns on his military paycheck. And there isn’t much he can do to change it.