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Bradley Amendment

The "Bradley Amendment" was passed in 1986. It is one of the most unfair laws ever passed. It says that past due child support cannot be reduced for any reason.There are many examples of extreme injustice arising from this law.

A man has an accident. He enters a coma. He earns no money while in a coma. When he comes out of the coma, he has a large amount of past due child support that he cannot possibly pay. The Court cannot reduce the past due child support. The man cannot get back on his feet and possibly even goes to jail.

A man is taken prisoner by a terrorist group or during a war. He earns no income while a prisoner. Again, tough. Once he is released, he cannot get on his feet and may go to jail.

More commonly, the man cannot afford a lawyer after his income drops, or he doesn't understand the importance of immediately filing a motion to modify when his income drops (child support can be changed for the future but not the past). Past due child support builds until he is in an impossible situation.

Of course, although few men are prisoners of war or terrorist groups, many men go to prison. It is not uncommon at all for a man to come out of prison and then immediately confront the risk of going to jail for child support. Men in prison usually find it nearly impossible to address their child support issues in court.

In some situations, a wildly outrageous amount of child support is awarded with no relationship to the man's earnings because the man has no legal representation or he misses a court date or whatever. He gets into an impossible situation. Fathers almost never get free representation from the State like mothers.

I represented a man years ago who didn't know he even had a child until the child was an adult. The Attorney General sought 18 years retroactive child support. You see, it is OK to award child support retroactively but not OK to reduce it retroactively. The poor man was within a few months of retiring and going on Social Security. Fortunately, the judge did not award 18 years back child support and in fact was very reasonable, but a disaster could have happened. That man would have been economically destroyed, and he may have literally gone to jail.

These types of issues explain why many times more men are homeless than women and why many more men commit suicide than women. Social safety nets are for women and traps for men.

The Bradley Amendment is an example of extremely bad law. A rigid rule was enacted based on politics. The Courts were deprived of authority to make decisions based on the equities of the specific case before them. Any time you have a political movement for "tough" and rigid laws in favor of one class of people (e.g. single mothers) against another class (e.g. fathers), the likely outcome is bad law. This is one example of many.

Of course, when this phenomena occurs, the examples given in support of the law may be compelling (e.g. a father with a good income who pays nothing), but the law inevitably becomes over broad and creates extremely inequitable outcomes.

Statutory law should not be too rigid and it should allow courts some flexibility. It is impossible for the legislature to understand all the circumstances that might arise in the future. Of course, in this instance, I don't think the horrors of this law are difficult to foresee. This was an attack on men and a gift to women.

Yes, I know sometimes the genders are reversed. Sometimes, the Bradley Amendment hurts women not men, but in the vast bulk of cases it hurts men not women not only because women usually get custody but women are just treated differently.

What do you do? Well, if your income drops, you file a motion to modify immediately (assuming you are not in a coma or a prisoner of war). When your income drops, you often cannot afford a lawyer, but even if you must file it without a lawyer, file it. A one sentence motion that states "please reduce my child support because I lost my job" is much better than nothing.

It seems to me that the past due child support can be forgiven by the person or entity entitled to receive it (often the State has the right to receive it because the State has paid assistance to the mother) even though a court cannot reduce it. It seems to me that the Court can enter an Order confirming this forgiveness even though the Court cannot forgive it on its own. However, not all women or entities entitled to receive child support are in a forgiving mood. You don't want to rely on voluntary forgiveness.