Corey Curtis, age 44, of Racine, Wisconsin appeared before County Court Judge Tim Boyle to face allegations that he owed $50,000 in arrears of child support and $40,000 in interest to the six mothers of his nine children.
While pronouncing a sentence of three years probation on him for failure to pay child support, Judge Boyle mused about how he wished he had the authority to order sterilization of Mr. Curtis, because he couldn’t afford to pay for the nine children he had already sired.
The alert prosecutor then advised the Judge that there was precedent in Wisconsin to make such an order, referring to a 2001 case where a payor father was ordered not to father any further children until he had paid the arrears of child support he already owed.
This precedent setting case, State v. Oakley was upheld by Wisconsin’s highest court and later appealed to the United States Supreme Court, who declined to hear the case, thus implicitly recognizing the legitimacy of the trial court order. The Justices of the Wisconsin Court held that the “no-procreation” condition of probation was constitutional. It was also preferable to the eight-year prison sentence that otherwise would have been ordered.
One Judge dissented on the basis that a person should have as many children as he or she wants, even if they cannot afford them:
“by allowing the right to procreate to be subjected to financial qualifications, the majority imbues a fundamental liberty interest with a sliding scale of wealth. Men and women in America are free to have children, as many as they desire. They may do so without the means to support the children and may later suffer legal consequences as a result of the inability to provide support. However, the right to have a child has never been rationed on the basis of wealth.”
In a similar scenario in Texas, Felicia Salazar, age 20, was sentenced to ten years probation for failing to prevent her 19-month old daughter from being abused by her partner. She was also ordered not to have any more children until her probation was completed.
These orders may be harsh but if the “best interests of the children” are paramount, they may occasionally be necessary.