The night after his release, Sherrill was arrested for not paying $1,425 in child support while he was a hostage.
A similar shock awaited Clarence Brandley.
In 1980, the Texas high school janitor was wrongly accused of murder. He spent nearly 10 years in prison, most of it on death row, until his exoneration in January 1990.
In 1991, Brandley sued the state for wrongful imprisonment. The state responded with a bill for nearly $50,000 in child support that Brandley didn't pay while in prison.
By federal law, neither of these men can have their child support arrears modified or eliminated for the time it was impossible for them to have made the payments.
The Bradley Amendment [42, U.S.C. 666(a)(9)(c)] says that once a child-support obligation has been established, it cannot be retroactively reduced or forgiven by a judge.
If a child support obligor becomes disabled, imprisoned, unemployed, or even slips into a coma, unless they have the wherewithal or presence of mind to file for a suspension or reduction, their debt will continue to accumulate, and cannot be modified for any reason.
The Bradley amendment all but ensures that any parent who has a dip in cash flow will be buried under a debt that cannot be legally escaped.
It often helps chase poor men into illegal activities or the underground economy, away from "mainstream" jobs and their children.
This is clearly wrong, and violates every principle of justice and fair play for which we Americans have always prided ourselves.
I call upon your readers to join me and contact their representatives asking for legislation that would repeal 42, U.S.C. 666(a)(9)(c ), commonly known as the Bradley Amendment, and substitute language that would allow retroactive modification of child support arrears in the interest of justice, and when determined to be in the best interest of the child.
This would allow rational judges to do what is right in order to eliminate the manifest injustice faced by tens of thousands of child support obligors.
Readers can use the ANCPR Legislative Action Center at www.ancpr.org to gain access to their legislators as well as sample letters.