The story I’m about to tell you is my favorite example of how goofy our child support laws can be. If you’re in a hurry I’ll save you some time and give you the moral of the story: You can be compelled to pay child support to someone who doesn’t even have custody of, and is not caring for, your child.
In this case, a mother lost custody of her child to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). Generally, if DCS has to step in and remove somebody’s children, it’s because the parents have some sort of issue that is preventing them from taking proper care of their children.
In other words, the fact that the children have been removed isn’t the real problem. Interference by DCS is an indication of some larger issue that is giving the parents difficulty. This could be bad health, unemployment, drug or alcohol problems, abuse, or many other things. Whatever the issue is, it’s safe to say the parents usually aren’t operating at the peak of their income earning potential.
Never fear, DCS is here to help by protecting the children while the parents sort their issues out. The first thing DCS will do is remove the children from the home, and place them where they’ll be safe. The second helpful thing they will do is sue the parents for child support, since the state will have custody of the children for some length of time.
In this particular story the child ran away from state custody, and the state had no idea where the child was. The mother (who was apparently the only parent in this case), pointed out that she shouldn’t have to pay support to the state since the state was not actually providing any support for the child.
Compare this to the situation where you pay a valet to park your car while you’re at dinner. If you come back later and your car is gone, you do not have to pay their storage fees, since they are not actually storing your car.
According to the Tennessee courts, however, this logic does not apply to children. Even if the child is never located the mother will have to continue to pay the state child support until the child turns 18 and would have graduated from high school. This is because the statute requires that child support be based on legal custody, not the actual location of the child.
What do you think? Is this good policy, or government run amuck?