Saturday, July 28, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I never thought it would happen to me. The feeling it gives you is terrible. The shame is almost overwhelming. The thought of it makes my skin crawl.

What am I referring to? Being behind in child support payments.

Well, I'm not really behind. But, according to the Texas Attorney General Office I am; and I have the garnishment order to prove it.

My former spouse and I agreed on our divorce settlement a few years ago, it was during the last week of February. It was from that day until October before the final divorce decree was done and signed by the judge. Because I didn't have the proper court order, my employer would not take the support payments out of my salary and forward them on to the AG office as specified in the decree. Once I had the final paperwork in hand, I gave a copy to the payroll folks and the payments started coming out of my salary as agreed to.

In the meantime, I paid my support payments to my kids' mom directly. Every payday I wrote a check out and delivered it to her personally. No problem there, everyone was happy.

Fast forward to now. My support payments come up on the every-three-year review. They look in the records and see there is no record of payments made during the 8-month period before the final decree was finished. So they got a court order instructing my employer to take an additional $100 per month out of my salary to start paying back the support they think I didn't pay and they reported this matter to the credit bureaus. Without so much as a letter, a phone call, a "hey we're showing this discrepancy, can you explain it?" Wham! The gavel falls and I'm accused of and found guilty of a crime I did not commit in one fell swoop.

I called the AG Office to find out what the problem was. The garnishment order did not explain anything, it just mentioned the amount I am supposedly behind and ordered the amount to be deducted from my salary. Once the person at the office checked my records, I could immediately see it was a misunderstanding. I can understand where they might get the impression I skipped all those payments; but, given the fact that I have paid on time, every time since then you'd think they'd give me the benefit of a phone call or letter asking what happened to those payments. Nope - guilty!

I can have this backlog erased by merely filling out paperwork outlining the payments I made directly to my former spouse and having her sign it to verify I made the payments. Thankfully, we get along pretty well; I'd hate to think what it would be like if she were inclined to do "stupid ex-spouse" tricks like some I know of.

It's not the money I'm worried about. The worrisome part to me is that someone can be accused and found guilty with no due process, no recourse until after the fact. It's really a shame that our rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, are completely ignored in this type case. That is the real crime.

I believe any man (or woman for that matter) who does not pay their share of support for their children should be considered criminals. Their wages should be garnished and given to the custodial parent to make sure the kids don't go without. However - our Nation is founded on laws and one of the highest of those laws decrees that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty and that everyone is entitled to due process under the law.

If I had been given my due process in this matter, everything could have been settled with far less fanfare without labeling me a "deadbeat dad."

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