Part 3: Oklahoma Can Do Better
UPDATE: In April 2015, a judge ruled the DHS had overcharged interest on back child support obligations judges ordered as lump sum payments for obligations accrued before child support orders were in place. Find out if you might have overpaid interest on back child support in Oklahoma here.
UPDATE: In May, 2015, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that will end DHS computation of a parenting time penalty in Oklahoma child support calculations. The law takes effect Nov. 1, 2015.
It has been five years since the Oklahoma Dept. of Human Services concluded the legislature had passed a law that penalizes parents for parenting. For the most part, the parenting penalty until now has mostly been discussed behind closed doors.
Some Oklahoma family lawyers know about DHS’s strange interpretation. Many do not.
The law is often discussed in continuing legal education classes for attorneys led by DHS staff. One argument we have heard is that the penalty only affects a few people, and in those cases it can be straightened out in court.
Part Two: An Exercise in Bureaucratic Nonsense
We previously wrote about our doubts that DHS attorneys or local family lawyers often address the parenting penalty. The former lawmaker who introduced the law in 2009 that DHS now misinterprets said he would try to make the language more clear if he were still in office. Even a DHS attorney familiar with the agency’s interpretation said the law needs to be changed.
We argue that DHS should wise up and read the law as intended. If not – and they probably will not — legislators need to change the law. For that to happen, lawmakers need to understand why this little bit of bad law is a problem.
Does it Really Matter?
Why does it matter if DHS presumes an absurd result contrary to legislators’ intent? Any lawyer doing the job right can ask a judge to ignore the absurd presumption.
That is a problem. If DHS misinterprets the law in court forms for presumptive child support computations, can we trust each of their 75 attorneys to correct the wrong interpretation every time it comes up?
Even if DHS attorneys do argue against their agency’s flawed presumption, taxpayers pay for those attorneys’ time in court. And if that happens, taxpayers would also be paying judges to sort out DHS’ bizarre arguments against DHS’ own interpretation of the law.
We can imagine those arguments…
“Your Honor, Oklahoma lawmakers got it wrong and we helped them get it wrong, but now we say we are prohibited from doing what they want, so please let us deviate from our interpretation of the law we wrote.”
For parents who hire private attorneys, money that could otherwise be spent on child care is paid to attorneys who tell judges to ignore the absurd results of DHS’s rigid bureaucratic interpretation.
Since DHS says it must presume increased child support for parenting time, what stops attorneys from using the same absurd arguments in custody negotiations? As long as DHS maintains the bizarre assertion, any attorney can point to the agency’s interpretation in defense of absurd computations.
A parent could be pressured into giving up parenting time because it would increase child support payments. Instead of spending another holiday with the child, or a few more days during the summer, a non-custodial parent might simply accede to an opposing attorney’s specious arguments based on DHS’ illogical presumptions.
Beyond those practical results, it is simply a bad law when a state agency can claim it means something other than what legislators intended.
Does a little bit of bad law matter? Few people read that law other than family lawyers and maybe parents struggling to lead newly reorganized families. Bureaucrats’ inside jokes about DHS’ illogical interpretation does not encourage troubled parents to work out reasonable solutions.
Time to Fix It
DHS has long known of the absurd result their form can yield. The agency for five years has not changed the form to say “use line 7 only if it is less than line 5.”
Instead, they claim they are required by law to include the absurd result in presumptive child support calculations. They claim to pay staff attorneys to go to court and argue against their own form. Or they do not argue against the parenting penalty, and let the injustice stand.
The law needs to be changed. DHS might not have blocked a fix but no fix has been introduced. The agency tends not to pursue fix-it bills. Bureaucrats prefer to craft legislative agendas around major reforms. DHS does not want to stop its parade to tie a shoe.
If DHS refuses to read the law as intended, lawmakers need to clarify their intent. The cost of legislators restoring a missing phrase would be no more than the ongoing cost of DHS lawyers repeatedly arguing against their own agency’s presumptions.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Child Support Attorney
If you pay more child support because you spend with your child or you declined additional parenting time because it would cost money you needed for child care, Wirth Law Office would like to know about it. In some cases, a court can modify child support obligations.
Wirth Law Office Communications Director David Collins contributed to this report.
Part Two: An Exercise in Bureaucratic Nonsense
Wirth Law Office Communications Director David Collins contributed to this report, including an interview with Amy Page.