Any time people are jailed for not paying a debt which cannot be discharged by bankruptcy, child support for example, the debtor’s prison emerges. The illogic of this prison concept is that a jailed man (or an occasional woman) cannot work, and thus cannot pay his debts. Meanwhile taxpayers foot the bill for him to be given food, shelter, and medical care. (Note: the Family Court can only put him in jail for up to a year.) When he gets out, his situation is worse financially and finding a job is even harder. So he ends up going back into prison very soon for what turns out to be a lifetime of successive one year sentences as the process goes on. In recent years, the USA has also established a federal debtor’s prison which can jail men for up to 14 years when their child support arrearage accumulates to over US$5,000, creating an even surer life sentence.
But what does such a sentence serve other than to make a vengeful woman feel good? It is nothing more than a “legal orgasm,” fleeting and shallow. And like the worst sort of luxury prostitution, it is very costly “pleasure” indeed for taxpayers: a waste of money, productivity and lives. It is an example of how senseless and vicious public policy can be.
Chile also has such debtor’s prisons, although their use is not as egregious as in the USA. The main difference is that in Chile there are relatively few prosecutions. Even women who could complain do not do so since they realize that once the man goes to jail she will have no possibility of help with the children and zero chance of collecting any money. Plus, men in the lower classes might actually be better off economically in jail since they do not earn very much to begin with and room and board are relatively expensive for them. Getting free room and board could be viewed as a benefit, and women know this fact. Judges in Chile apparently realize these facts too, much more than their counterparts in the USA, and try to minimize the jailing of men during their productive working years.
In sum, if an ex-husband’s work opportunities were diminished by his incarceration, it would become even less likely that he could pay the ex-wife anything. So Chilean ex-wives tend to prosecute less. In that sense, divorced women in Chile are more practical than their American counterparts. For similar reasons, except in the most brutal circumstances, ex-wives often do not find it advantageous to invent/fabricate (or report) domestic violence incidents if it means their money might be cut off. American women, on the other hand, love to play the domestic violence card and frequently lie and make up domestic violence events for the sole purpose of securing child custody and obtaining a restraining order (which can be had without the husband being in court to defend himself). American women with high incomes are especially dangerous since they do not need their husband’s income to survive. Since, unlike in Chile, a woman who earns far more than her husband can still gain child support payments from him, the American ex-wife might prefer to see vengeance inflicted upon he ex-husband by jailing him for life for nonpayment. Chilean women would feel shamed culturally for doing such a thing since the family is important and she would not be able to face her children once they realize that she was responsible for putting their father in jail. Chileans inherently believe that even poor-quality fathers need to be with their children from time to time.
In addition, the amount of “child support” paid by a Chilean man is much lower than men pay in the USA. Child support obligations can last up to 24 years, 18 years if the children do not go to college, or for life if the child is sick with something like Down’s Syndrome. Yet Chilean courts do not assign a woman an annuity of up to 24 years that goes beyond actual child support needed, thus creating a windfall opportunity for a woman. She has to demonstrate and accredit one-half of the costs of food, clothing, shelter, and education of the children. And she has little incentive to fudge the numbers since she is paying one-half, unless she was a wholly-dependent spouse. The courts will try to make sure the child is maintained at the same standard of living which he had during the marriage. But they will not try to make divorcing one’s husband the profitable opportunity it has become in the USA.
In Chile, the amount that divorced or legally separated husbands have to pay could be as much as 35% their salary. This percentage is especially significant for workers in the middle class whose salary is around US$1,000 per month. Nevertheless, many Chilean men are able to pay the required sum every month and still continue their lives without having to move back in with parents or live in their cars like they do in the USA.
A Chilean woman is always holding her finger on the trigger and the man’s freedom is effectively at her mercy if he does not pay. But then again the process of capturing the man is not always easy and women know it. In Chile, the cops are sent out once to find a man who has not paid is child support and arrest him. If they do not find him the warrant becomes null and void. Thus, delinquent payers (especially self-employed ones) learn to hide and move around a lot, and their ex-wives know it. Moreover, men are not allowed to leave the country if they are behind on their payments and many men carry a certificate saying that they are up-to-date with their child support when the travel abroad for business or pleasure. Yet keeping an ex-husband under the gun and moving around means less cooperation and potential payment, and less time visiting and helping with the children. So Chilean women have to think twice before pulling the trigger and trying to put their ex-husband in jail. Men who are employed by companies or organizations have little chance to hide since judges will order garnishment of the their pay. Hence, in most cases, employed men (and even some self-employed men) find it most expeditious to make an out-of-court settlement with the ex-wife.
With the Chilean marriage law that went into effect in 1980, men that marry with “separación de bienes” (permanent division of assets) do not have to worry that their assets can be taken by their wives during a divorce. She cannot get to them. And they are neither part of the court proceedings nor counted for purposes of determining child support or lawyer’s fees. Furthermore, the children cannot demand that their father sell his home or other assets in order to give them support, even though they will inherit those assets upon his death.
Unlike the USA, relatively few Chilean men find themselves stuck in the debtor’s prison. And even if they do, they do not necessarily face an insurmountable debt when they get out. The support due does continue to accumulate while the man is in jail but payment is not going to be demanded immediately like in America, crushing the man and sending him back to prison. That fact is especially true with shorter imprisonments. The jail experience in Chile differs greatly from that found in the USA. Sentences for first time offenders of non-payment of child support are often for fifteen days. (Subsequent offenses might carry more severe penalties.) But fifteen days is actually only fifteen nights since Chilean men are usually allowed to leave the jail every day to work; they just eat and sleep in the jail at night. For them, jail is basically a low-class motel with board.
Accordingly, the idea of a debtor’s prison makes no sense to Chileans who have enough social policy to pay for without adding room and board accommodations for men who do not pay debts. They do not see the benefit of keeping productive men idle in jail where they play fútbol and board games with their friends. They could be out producing something instead and the legal system is set up to encourage their participation in the workforce.
Prison sentences for domestic violence in Chile are varied too. Like in the USA, many if not most domestic violence cases are fabricated and exaggerated by women. Unlike the USA, the woman has a much greater burden of proof since she has to get the hospital staff to affirm and accredit her wounds. She cannot just claim that she “feels threatened” or afraid and thus have enough “evidence” to incarcerate her ex-husband like women do in the USA. A mean text message is not sufficient. Nor can she easily claim (with expectation of success) that a bruise on her leg she got while bumping into the car door was really the result of her husband trying to choke her and throw her across the room. For minor domestic violence incidents, a man could be sentenced to spend one night in each month in jail for a year. Punishment would be more severe in cases where the woman has been clearly wounded by the ex-husband. But Chilean policy is not the result of crass, harsh, or unyielding pressures from radical feminist special interest groups. Consequently, the Chilean system is more humane, even if not perfect, than the Draconian one in the USA.
Once again, Chilean women tend to be more practical than American women. Their primary goal is to extract money from their ex-husbands; the benefits of vengeance only go so far. They do not want the man dead and thus unable to pay; or so often in prison such that he cannot hold a good job. So women tend not to prosecute their ex-husbands for missing a few payments, etc. as much as they do in the USA, instead opting for more cooperative means to getting at his earnings. Note that in the USA the prosecution process usually begins automatically on behalf of women by the family courts, which curiously garner a 2% to 5% commission on each payment and thus have a financial interest in the transaction. Wages cannot be easily garnished in Chile and when they are, men usually make a deal with employers to lower their pay and thus minimize the payment which is based on a percentage of earnings. Men also learn how to increase their living expenses such that the 35% top for child support, calculated on the net, is minimized. The payment to an ex-wife also goes down if the man remarries and has other children to support, making remarriage an even more enticing option. Women know these facts and thus have greater incentive to negotiate a settlement with their ex-husbands rather than create an adversarial relationship with them.
Having a criminal record in Chile for non-payment of child support, or for alleged domestic violence, does not always look bad for a man. A large number of Chilean employers and managers are divorcees paying child support themselves. They know how the game is rigged. Indeed, many employers and colleagues will consider the affected employee to be a victim rather than a criminal. Plus, employers are apparently forbidden in Chile from doing criminal background checks on prospective employees except for certain kinds of employment. Of course, long absences from employment can cause job loss and even a permanent bar from working with a particular company (since abandoning one’s job is technically considered an infraction, precluding rehiring a man who does so). But telling one’s employer that he is being compelled to go to jail for two days a month for the next six months on account of the ex-wife’s rage is likely to generate more sympathy for him than grief at his place of employment. He will probably not lose his job over the jail time, that’s for sure.
In Chile, a person’s debts expire after 7 or 10 years, according to my sources. And, although the law is not entirely clear, accumulated debt from past child support also expires (in effect) over time. Chilean courts often assign the wife’s attorney’s fees to the husband and this debt too will apparently expire. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to leave the country and live abroad, if they can, while their debts expire. The bottom line is that the debtor’s prison system in the USA for non-payment of child support and other items ordered by the family courts is far more Draconian and senseless than the system in Chile. The Chilean system is far from perfect, but does rely more on market forces and social cooperation more than the force of the state, making Chile a kinder and gentler place to raise a family than the USA. Have you ever thought about leaving the “land of the free” on account of the ever-increasing abuses of the state and its public policies? If so, I would highly recommend Chile as an alternative.
Dr. Cobin’s book, Life in Chile: A Former American’s Guide for Newcomers, is the most comprehensive treatise on Chilean life ever written, designed to help newcomers get settled in Chile. He covers almost ever topic imaginable for immigrants. This knowledge is applied in his valet consulting service (see http://www.chile-consulting.cl), where he guides expatriates through the process of finding a place to live and settle in Chile, helping them glide over the speed bumps that they would otherwise face in getting their visas, setting up businesses, buying real estate, investing in Chilean stocks or gold coins, etc. The cost is $49. If you have problems getting the book through the Overseasradio.com site, since the ORN Store is sometimes closed for maintenance, please use the PayPal info noted below.
Dr. Cobin’s sequel book, Expatriates to Chile: Topics for Living, adds even further depth on important topics to expatriates who either live in Chile already or who have Chile on the short list of countries where they hope to immigrate. The book deals with crucial issues pertaining to urban and rural real estate transactions, natural disasters, issues pertaining to emigration and its urgency, money and the quality of life, medical care and insurance, business opportunities, social manifestations (including welfare state and divorce policy concerns), Chile in the freedom indices, social maladies (lying, cheating, stealing and murder), as well as discussion of a few places worth visiting and some further comments about Santiago. Note: If the link to buy the book at the Overseasradio.com site does not appear, since the ORN Store is sometimes closed for maintenance, just send US$39 by PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org and send an email or PayPal notice that you have completed your order. A download link will be sent to you directly. The Overseasradio.com website also has Dr. Cobin’s abridged book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), or the little book can also be obtained directly by following the aforementioned PayPal steps.
Christian Theology of Public Policy: Highlighting the American Experience (2006)
Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective (2003)
A Primer on Modern Themes in Free Market Economics and Policy (2009)