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Deadbeat Dad: I'll stop eating if you put me in jail

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There are tens of thousands of deadbeat parents in America -- men and women who refuse to support their children.  This classification would not apply to those men and women who have recently been hit by the current economic crisis.  It wouldn’t be fair to call those people deadbeats.

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There are tens of thousands of men and women -- mostly men -- who owe tens of thousands of dollars in child support which has accrued prior to this economic crisis, when the economy was good.  How about a deadbeat dad that owes $90,000 and equates himself to Gandhi and Martin Luther King?

Meet John Murtari of Lyons, NY.  Murtari doesn’t think or believe that he should pay child support because he did not get either full custody or joint custody of his son when he got divorced in 1997.  Ever since then he has embarked on what he calls a “civil rights action” which has resulted in him trying, and repeatedly succeeding at getting himself thrown in jail.  Today he owes $90,000 in child support.

Murtari is required to pay $120 per week in child support.  He claims that he can’t afford to pay that amount.  In one of his many postings on his website, he posits:  “Suppose your former spouse’s family are almost millionaires -- your kid doesn’t want for material things, just you.”

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In a court filing in 1999, Murtari made the following declaration:

Since the Spring of 1999 I have committed myself to an effort to Reform the Family Law System and to regain an equal relationship with my son… This has become a “full time” effort and it will not cease until I am restored as an equal parent to my son and can give him the personal support he deserves and which is my obligation & duty.

In the Fall of 1999 I ceased full time employment and only work at a consulting level at the family owned Company.  My monthly income since November of 1999 has been approximately $400.

What Murtari is effectively saying is “if I don’t get my way, I’m not going to play by the rules.”  To date, almost a decade after his declaration, his efforts to reform the family law system have produced zero results, other than him having been jailed numerous times on various criminal charges.

In fairness to Murtari, he does have one partially valid complaint about his case.  After the divorce was final, his wife was allowed by the court to move from New York to first Colorado, and then to California.  He was not granted any child support credits for expenses that he might realistically incur in maintaining a relationship with his son.

Whether Murtari should be given credits for maintaining a relationship with his son is another issue.  Just prior to his divorce, he quit his $40,000 a year job and took a job paying 55% less, ostensibly so he could spend more time with his son.  No doubt the court looked at that and decided that Murtari was trying to avoid paying child support, and his child support was set at what his previous employment was paying.  Because of this, Murtari claims that he cannot afford to pay what he has been ordered to pay.  He has numerous rationalizations as to why he cannot go back to earning what he used to earn.  One of those rationalizations now is his civil rights activities.

Rational or Irrational?

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On Murtari’s website, AKidsRight.Org, he repeatedly equates his protests of the family law system to the efforts of Martin Luther King.  He would like to see federal legislation granting people who are going through divorces certain “civil rights” which would be similar to the Civil Rights Act.  In attempting to travel down this avenue, he has been attempting to secure a meeting with his Senator, Hillary Clinton at her Syracuse, NY office.  In pursuing this, Murtari has repeatedly been told that his issues are not Federal issues, but instead State issues.  The Federal Government does not have any involvement in divorce or custody issues as those matters are decided at the State level.

Murtari believes otherwise.  As a result, he kept on returning to Senator Clinton’s office seeking a meeting.  Eventually her staff became concerned about his continual presence and asked that he be banned from the building.  Upon being banned, Murtari then began writing in chalk on the sidewalk outside the federal building -- “Sen. Clinton, please help us.”  He has subsequently been arrested numerous times; jailed and fined for various misdemeanor criminal charges. The fines have never been paid because Murtari is voluntarily living at or below the poverty rate.

Murtari has also been jailed twice for failure to pay child support.  The last time he was jailed in late 2006, he decided that he would take “civil disobedience” to a new level by refusing to cooperate with his jailors.  Part of his refusal to cooperate, is refusing to eat or drink.  Murtari claims that this is not a “starvation strike” but instead just civil disobedience.  His rationale is that if he is going to be jailed for what he considers to be an unjust law, the State should go to extraordinary lengths to keep him alive.  As a result, during that six month jail term (less time for good behavior) Murtari spent his time on the hospital ward being fed with a nasal-gastric tube.

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Doc is semi-retired, currently living, working and investing in China. Background in medicine (trauma), business and education. Neither a progressive or a conservative; more of a centrist/libertarian who is a strong proponent of personal (more...)

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