Yup, Its the Law
By Anne Stanton 11/2/09
Got a teenager whos had trouble with the law? Then be prepared to pay dearly for court-ordered fines and rehabilitation -- sometimes totaling tens of thousands of dollars.
Charging parents for their teens rehab and legal bills has the court of law behind it, said Frank Vandervort, clinical assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan.
Even if the parent objects, and doesnt think its appropriate, the court can override the parents prerogative. And the case law is very clear that the debt survives the kid well into adulthood, he said.
That was an unpleasant reality for Dan Coddington and his former wife, whose story was told in last weeks Northern Express. Their son Trevor was found with marijuana several times, beginning at the age of 14. He subsequently spent 15 months in court-ordered drug rehab programs, with his treatment and court fines adding up to $53,054. Initially, his divorced parents were billed nearly $26,000 apiece. Their bill was later reduced by $8,593. Trevor died in a car accident at the age of 19, yet the bills for his rehabilitation were still the responsibility of his parents. Fortunately for the Coddingtons, the court forgave much of their rehab bills in early October.
Why must parents pay for their teens mistakes?
State law says so, along with court precedent. A key case was People v. McEvoy, in which a boy was ordered to pay $750,000 for the damage to a school building he had set on fire. The trial courts decision was affirmed by the state appeals court in 2005.
DEEP IN DEBT
But Vandervort said tagging a juvenile with a lifelong bill is at odds with the mission of the juvenile court.
The whole idea of the juvenile court is a kid makes a mistake, so we want to help them get rehabilitated and send them into adulthood free of drug problems. But this contravenes the whole philosophy. We are sending a kid into adulthood so deeply in debt that they spend a good portion of their adult life trying to pay the debt. Its completely contrary to a juvenile court system.
But court officials say they are between a rock and a hard place. Treatment programs are extremely expensive. Either the families carry the debt for decades or the taxpayers do. But some parents, like Dan Coddington, disagree with taking a youth out of their home and putting them into residential rehab, shoulder-to-shoulder with other deeply troubled youths. He believes some youths come out more troubled than when they went in, and suffer a stigma when they return to school.
Coddington said the enormous bills also stress out a family, already stressed by their teens troubles. Being forced to pay tens of thousands for treatment can put a strain on the relationship. Vandervort said the working poor and middle class families are the most likely to feel the financial squeeze because they dont qualify for Medicaid and the rich can afford to pay.
Insurance companies do not cover rehabilitation or counseling thats paid for by the court and not directly by the family.
So what happens in the adult court? Offenders also pay numerous fees, but are very rarely, if ever, sent to residential rehabilitationat least in Grand Traverse County. And the adultnot the courtmust pay for the services directly, not the court. And there are many, many fees.
In the adult system, more and more, they are being taxed with one fee or another. Fees for probation, fees that the probation officer gets to monitor you, fees for drug testing. If youre in jail, youre charged with a per diem (daily charge). Weve basically gotten debtors prison again, Vandervort said.