Get married, go to jail
By Jim Murphy
The mainstream has started to admit that it's men, not women, who are shying away from marriage. This 1994 article helps to explain why.
The biggest mistake of my life
1994 Bellevue, Wash. - Ever felt like a fool? Well, pay close attention, readers, because it seems that I have set the standard by which all others will be measured. My sincere hope is to prevent some of you from following in my footsteps.
In March 1987, I made the greatest mistake of my life. I got married. This was a mistake? It happens every day, right? Read on.
Within a few days of the marriage my wife vanished, leaving her two daughters (ages 8 and 9) with me. About three weeks later she returned with many far-fetched excuses for her absence.
I had, however, done some investigating before her return and found she was using cocaine, at times with a needle, and sleeping with just about every guy in town. This behavior came as a complete surprise to me. I had also learned from her family that this was a cycle she repeated every few years. There was no question about how I had to deal with the situation. I sent her packing.
At this point, I felt the only issues I had to deal with were ending the marriage and reassessing my choices in relationships. Although she became impossible to locate for over a year, I did not worry about the divorce feeling she would eventually surface. This was the critical mistake.
Court doesn't care how men will survive
One day at work I was served papers for payment of back child support. Thinking this was some bureaucratic error, I contacted Support Enforcement (who, according to some, are really Satan, and to others, Crazed Social Workers on Drugs). They informed me there was no mistake, and that by virtue of marriage, I currently owed over a year's child support and the clock was still running.
I interviewed ten lawyers, none of who were aware of the stepparent child support liability law. I did, however, finally select one and went to my first objection hearing. This is where the real fun began!
The judge listened to my story and ordered me to pay 50 percent of my income to the State for back and current child support. "How am I to live on 50 percent of my income," I asked. "Mr. Murphy," the judge responded, "we are not concerned with how you are going to live. We are here to discuss how the State is going to get its money."
Shock, disbelief and denial set in as I discovered there was no urther remedy available.
Shortly thereafter, I moved to Vancouver, Washington, and stayed with friends to ease my financial burden and to decide what in the hell to do about this fine mess.
In this new city, I met my current attorney, John Karpinski. We decided to try for an annulment of the marriage, wiping it, in effect, out along with the child support.
There is no need to go into detail of the personal hardships I went through during this time. Let's just say it was the bleakest period of my life.
After filing a petition for annulment, the wheels of justice started their very slow and creaking motion toward final resolution. It was of no surprise that the Attorney General's Office opposed my petition. Remember, there is money involved here.
During the first pretrial conference, the judge urged the State to compromise in some way as, considering the circumstances, she would tend to rule in my favor. The lawyers for the Attorney General's Office made a great show in front of the judge and displayed a willingness to work toward a compromise. They claimed, however, that they had to consult with Support Enforcement, whom they could not reach, for reasons that were never made clear. Nonetheless, despite that the judge seemed satisfied that all parties were on the road to an agreement that would avoid unnecessary litigation, to no one else's surprise the Attorney General's Office did not give an inch.
Next came preparation for trial, complete with witnesses, lawyers and dancing bears. The basis for my petition for annulment was non consummation of marriage (no sex), and misrepresentation of her character and lifestyle. In legalese, that's "fraud within the essentials of marriage."
The Attorney General's Office then contacted my wife. She had been very offended by the way my lawyer had spoken to her on the phone and used this as a rationalization to lie to them. She said the marriage was indeed consummated and then rambled on about many other issues, most of which were incoherent. They felt they had scored big. The State was certain that with her false testimony and their usual edge (the State always wins), they were operating from a position of strength. As a result, I was faced with having to pursue my case through a very expensive trial instead of being able to work toward a compromise.
My lawyer explained the economic facts of life to me, which somewhat cooled my outrage. My choices were to litigate this in court (estimated to be three days to two weeks with a 50 percent chance of total victory), or strike a deal for reduction of the support and spend substantially less than I would on a trial. Additionally, the State told me, in effect, that if I won my case, they had a lot of perfectly good lawyers around and would put them to work litigating it to the State Supreme Court.
I was at the end of my rope, emotionally, mentally and financially when a small ray of hope shown through -- my wife, faced with the embarrassment of a trial and the danger of losing her children should her lifestyle be revealed, finally signed the agreement for the petition of annulment.
Not about Men v. Women
The State offered to not oppose me if I would sign an agreement to pay 76 cents on the dollar for the back child support. This agreement also required the State to reduce the garnishment of my paycheck from nearly $700 per month to $100 per month until the debt was paid. Mr. Karpinski advised me to take the deal and get on with my life unless, of course, I was willing and able to take this case to the State Supreme Court.
On July 10, 1992, the judge granted my petition. I was no longer married. In fact, I was never married. Outrageous so far? Well, the State still had a few aces yet to play.
Five months after the court order was signed, the full amount of garnishment was still being taken from my paycheck. Mr. Karpinski finally had to threaten to send the County Sheriff to arrest the head of Support Enforcement for contempt of court to get them to comply with the order.
Before they complied, however, the State filed suit against me for what is known as CR60. It seems the State had made an error and sent nearly $3,000 to my former wife. Their basis for this petition was that a mutual mistake had been made and they wanted me to pay this amount again. Guess what. I lost again.
As an interesting side note, the State waited to take this action until after the original judge, a tough, no nonsense individual, retired. Imagine, all this brilliant legal maneuvering against a man who never even had children.
This brings to a close the high points of this little misadventure. I want to make it very clear that this is not a case of man vs. woman, nor is it in any way about my former wife. It is about a law that is an outrage and a moral tragedy.
Uniform Child Support Act
In researching the statutes, I became aware of a few nasty facts. First, the State is eager to hammer anyone for child support due to the Uniform Child Support Act, that became effective in 1986. This act allows the State to receive 68 cents for every dollar collected for child support from any source. Apparently, the State had to adopt this act or lose federal funds.
Second, the State has more than a little interest in keeping this law quiet. (This was admitted to me by one of the lawyers from the Attorney General's Office.) It seems there should be a warning label, complete with a skull and crossbones, on all marriage licenses. Think about it. By joining with a woman with minor children from a previous marriage, you assume complete financial responsibility for them, while the mother has almost none.
When hearing this story, virtually everyone asks me the same question: "What about the kids' father?" As I was informed at my first hearing, the State has the right to collect full support from both the natural father and the stepparent. Additionally, there have been more than a few cases where child support, maintenance and equal division of property have been awarded where couples have been living together, not married, and not producing any children from that union. Yes, this law does apply to women, if not often in practice.
Consdering marriage? Get an attorney!
I urge anyone contemplating marriage to an individual with children to consult with a good family law attorney. Any fee charged would be money well spent. Do not fall for the inevitable "but I would never do that" line from your partner. If the relationship goes sour, someone usually has hurt feelings and will not hesitate to punish you in any way possible. Take it from me, you don't want to find out how hard it is to get out of the system once you are in it. If you owe child support in any form, you can have your paycheck garnisheed, bank account attached, personal property seized, or you can be sent to jail.
Entering a love relationship and ultimately marriage should not require that you hand your partner the keys to your potential emotional and financial ruin. The concept that a failed marriage may well result in impoverishment to the point of homelessness due to children that you had no hand in bringing into this world is an abomination.
It is my sincere hope that the five nightmarish, wasted years of my life will have some meaning by helping some of you. I appeal to all of you, talk to your friends. Let's make everyone aware of the obscenity called RCW 74.20a.020.
John S, Karpinski, Mr. Murphy's attorney, adds the following:
Everyone should be exceedingly cautious about their legal responsibilities for child support where there are children of a prior marriage. I have been told that Washington is one of the few states in the country that has stepparent liability, and it is enforced with a vengeance.
In addition to Jim's good advice regarding a Pre-Marriage legal consultation, I also urge anyone whose marriage is in trouble and there are stepchildren involved to immediately consult a local attorney well versed in stepparent liability. If you are separated, you are likely to have to pay child support for her stepchildren.
If you are already divorced, you probably won't have to pay stepchild support. This is not to advise anyone who is in a troubled marriage and stepchildren are involved to immediately go and file for a divorce, but know your rights! The zeal with which the State attacked Jim, but left the actual father of the children alone, is astounding. Their attitude seemed to be stick it to the guy with the job; it's easier than achieving justice.