Minnis Minute: Corrigan's War; Justice takes on deadbeat dads

Add “Deadbeat Dads” to the growing list of non-state combatants against whom we have declared war.

First there was the War on Poverty, then the War on Drugs and then the War on Terror. Now there is the War on Deadbeat Dads — and the underground economy that enables them.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan announced the offensive Wednesday, June 16, when she released the results of a nearly two-year study by her handpicked Michigan Underground Economy Task Force.

A major portion of the study was devoted to “child support obligors” — i.e., deadbeat dads — and how they avoid paying child support by working in the underground economy.

Corrigan, who has served for many years as the judiciary’s liaison to the child support community, said her appointment to the National Judicial Child Support Task Force, led to her forming her own task force in Michigan.

“I learned about the underground economy’s huge adverse impact on child support collections,” she said. “Quantifying America’s underground economy and the harm that income-concealment does to children led us to launch this Michigan-based task force and seek solutions to many problems created by the underground community.”

Corrigan personally recruited the task force members, whose report was divided into three areas: Prevention, Collaboration and Enforcement.

Justice Corrigan chaired the task force and served on the Collaboration Subcommittee, which was headed by Maurice Aquate, special agent in charge, IRS Criminal Investigation Division, Detroit. Michael C. Leibson, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, chaired the Enforcement Subcommittee. Fourth Circuit Court Judge Chad C. Schmucker was chairman of the Prevention Subcommittee.

Corrigan reports that the underground economy represented 8 percent ($1.14 trillion) of the $14.3 trillion U.S. GDP in 2009. Further, 42 percent of child support obligorsdo not report any wage income. How do these deadbeat dads survive? Through underground economy, the task force maintains.

The IRS defines the underground economy as “goods and services that elude official measurement.” Most underground economy participants, including those involved in trade exchanges, do so to avoid paying taxes. Corrigan’s task force, however, is more concerned with those who choose to work in the underground economy to avoid providing financial support for their children.

The task force targets the dramatic increase in births to unwed mothers as the single most significant cause of a decline in parental responsibility. In 2006, 38.3 percent of babies born in Michigan were to single moms. The high divorce rate in the United States also contributes to the “child nonsupport pathology,” according to the report.

The IRS recently reported a “tax gap” - lost taxes due to the underground economy - at $345 billion. The United States is experiencing a comparable “child support gap,” according to the task force. Add to the child support gap the $105.5 billion in unpaid, court-ordered child support payments — “arrearage” — and one begins to see the magnitude of the problem.

All this was duly reported following a news conference at the Hall of Justice. But what wasn’t as widely reported were some of the recommendations of the task force, many of which require enabling legislation and changes in state and federal law:

• Require government-funded paternity testing of the mother, child and identified father before giving legal effect to a signed paternity affidavit.

• Educate parents about their societal support obligations.

• Require employers to submit new employees’ names to a central database, including first-time payments to independent contractors and other service providers.

• Exempt indigent prisoners from accruing child support arrearages while incarcerated.

• Forestall arrearage enforcement if obligors are currently making child support payments.

• Allow courts to adjust arrearages if obligee (custodial parent) does not object.

• Waive or suspend support-modification fees for indigent parents.

• Improve advocacy for non-custodial parents who cannot afford counsel.

• Require all circuit courts send their case data to the Judicial Data Warehouse so authorized court employees can locate support obligors.

• Provide a written sharing agreement between the Michigan Child Support Enforcement System and the JDW that allows personnel from the executive branch and the judiciary to access each other’s data.

• Require all insurance carriers participate in a data match program, such as Rhode Island’s Child Support Lien Network or the federal data match program.

• Allow Friends of the Court and other Title IV-D personnel the opportunity to intercept money judgments awarded to child support obligors in lawsuits against the state.

• Give FOC, et al, access to utility companies’ customer data.

• Notify IV-D providers when support obligors leave prison or jail.

• Ask child support obligors to sign IRS Form 8821, which would allow the IRS to share the obligors’ tax returns.

• Disseminate among IV-D providers the Social Security Administration’s annual summaries of individuals’ reported income and projected benefits.

• Allow FOC and IV-D personnel to monitor a support obligor’s application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and issue an income-withholding order immediately if the SSA awards benefits.

• Hire “field investigators” to assist local FOC and IV-D personnel.

• Create local multi-agency, multi-disciplinary underground economy “teams.”

• Work with business owners and labor unions to identify employers who pay their employees cash or misclassify their employees as “independent contractors.”

• Create a statewide Underground Economy Investigation Protocol.

• Train police officers how to obtain usable information from child support obligors during traffic stops and detain them if obligors have non-support bench warrants the require court appearances.

• Allow a judge to issue “pay or stay” orders that include an automatic, recurring ultimatum that support obligors pay or spend the next weekend in jail or on an electronic tether.

• Require divorcing parents attend pre-judgment educational programs, and offer never-married similar, optional programs.

• Dedicate FOC and IV-D staff resources to closely monitor new or significantly modified child support cases.

• Use “wanted posters” to locate support obligors and their assets in the underground economy.

• Use robocalling to delinquent obligors’ cell phones to remind them to pay their support arrears.

• Use passport and customs records to identify international travelers who have failed to pay children support or tax debts.

• Train child support collections staff in IRS techniques for investigating tax evasion.

• Assign IV-D and state tax personnel to investigate local underground economy activity.

• Ask local community members to identify underground economy workers.

• Allow the FOC or IV-D agencies to obtain wages-paid information from any public or private entity if it will aid in the collection of a tax or child support obligation.

• Require state-licensed casinos to check a child support database before paying jackpot winners and only paying the difference, if any, between the jackpot and the arrearage. The retained arrearage would then be sent to the appropriate IV-D agency.

• Link all state licensing agencies so that a single, online search can discover all licenses held by a support obligor.

• Allow FOC and IV-D agencies to use consumer credit reports for enforcement purposes.

• In felony seizure cases, prosecutors should determine if defendants owe child support arrears. If so and the case does not result in conviction and forfeiture, the IV-D agency should be prepared to levy the assets.

• Modify forfeiture laws to allocate some of the proceeds to pay past-due taxes and child support.

• Match child support records with quarterly wage reports and automatically issue income-withholding notices based on matching data entries.

• Provide guidance to jurists on reporting underground economy activity discovered while conducting a hearing to establish or modify child support.

• “Boot” cars owned by parents who owe child support arrears.

• Confiscate and resell season tickets to sporting events and use proceeds to pay support arrears and delinquent taxes.

• Data-match child support records with cell phone providers’ subscriber lists.

• Crosscheck support obligors’ federal, state and local income tax returns and local property tax records and investigate inconsistencies.

• Require anyone selling merchandise at a location other than a permanent store to prominently display a license from the appropriate governmental unit.

• Confiscate business licenses from employers who pay their employees in cash.

Of course, the task force left the decision whether to have children and how many up to individuals, and it did not recommend eliminating the child deduction in order to help pay for children of deadbeat dads.

In concluding its report, the task force realized that many of its recommendations would become subjects of vigorous debate about their wisdom. “People rightly fear the classic Orwellian specter of an all-knowing Big Brother government,” the report acknowledged, “but government agencies usually operate within vertical ‘silos’ that inhibit information sharing.”

Rather than trying to implement all these changes and the required enabling legislation, it seems to me that if the problem is men hiding assets, then hiring a of bunch female divorce attorneys will quickly to the trick.

It is difficult to feel sorry for deadbeat dads, just as it is hard to sympathize with drunken drivers. They all deserve the worse we can throw at them, it seems. Just like the Red Legs Captain Terrill said in the “Outlaw Josey Wales”: “Doin’ right ain’t got no end.”