(Fact - Based on Memory)


A few years ago, one of my colleagues heard a case that had been initiated by the child support unit of the Department of Revenue. The father was 23 years old.  He had been transported to court from the local jail where he was awaiting trial on a criminal matter. 


As the DOR attorney rose to make her case, she exuded a kind of weary firmness that says she’s seen it all but is not giving up the fight.  “Your Honor,” she began, “due to the father’s incarceration, we are asking for the minimum order of child support, $80.00 a month.”   The “minimum order” is the amount required by statute – the lowest amount a court can order for the support of a child. 


The judge took her time examining the court papers, arranging in her mind the relevant facts.  Clearly, the father would be unable to generate income from a jail cell; he was young and had no consistent job history, but one other fact leapt off the page.  With a calm, neutral voice, the judge asked “How many children does the father have? “


The DOR attorney replied.  “He has 8 children by 8 different mothers.” At this, the father piped up:  “No, your Honor, that’s not right!  I have 13 children by 10 different mothers!”


DOR could not immediately confirm the man’s claim but his statement appeared to be credible. Cases involving one man having 7, 8, 9 or more children by different mothers are becoming common enough that no one involved in child support enforcement is surprised by them. Though, the story of a 23 year old man in prison who has 13 children was sufficiently unique to generate some buzz around the Boston Probate and Family Court.


Several of these 13 children must share a birth year with one or more siblings.  I once had a young man before me who had three children.  Each child was age 3 and each had a different mother.   


We know that any of these children could grow up to do great things but the odds are heavily stacked against them.  Studies show that the girls are likely to face sexual abuse if any of these mothers allow a succession of boyfriends and/or fathers of their other children to stay in the home.  The boys, on the other hand, have a poor role model in their father.  The hope for them rests with a male relative, teacher, coach, or neighbor taking an interest in them and setting a good example.


It’s a little incongruous to say that as a judge, you don’t pass judgment on the people involved.  Nevertheless, it’s true. A judge addresses the issues before her just as the judge did in the case of the man with 13 children.   The decision was routine.  The minimum required level of child support was ordered paid.  


As for addressing the bigger cultural issues and finding remedies for the injustice visited upon children in these situations, the decisions are anything but routine and must be addressed by society.  






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