Year-old civil arrest warrant served against father in Groton parental rights case

Groton — The Groton father at the center of a parental rights termination case was served with a civil arrest warrant and jailed for two days last week for failing to appear in court regarding child support.

The father, John Stratzman, and his partner, Kirsten Fauquet, were in juvenile court for nearly two weeks in late October and early November, fighting a petition by the Department of Children and Families to sever their parental rights.

The department is seeking to terminate the parental rights of Fauquet to her five children, ages 6, 5, 3, 2 and 1, and of Stratzman, the biological father of three of the children. The couple’s now 3-year-old son suffered near starvation and abuse in a foster home, and the couple filed a request to sue the state after their son's injuries were discovered.

Daniel Hatcher, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and former senior staff attorney for the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, said child support enforcement and the child welfare system sometimes intersect in harmful ways.

If a working, low-income father whose wages are being garnished is arrested and jailed, he can't continue to work and may lose his job, which harms the father and the child, Hatcher said. The court costs, judicial marshals and incarceration also cost the state money, he said.

Stratzman missed a court date in November 2016 to discuss child support because he had a DCF-scheduled visit with his children the same day, he said. Since Stratzman is trying to reunite with his children, it would work against him if he missed the scheduled visit, Hatcher said.

Yet missing a court date also works against the father, Hatcher said.

The arrest stemmed from a child support order for Stratzman's son, who is now 5 years old. In 2014, Fauquet had sought a child support order from Stratzman during a time when the couple lived apart. He was ordered to pay $74 a week to the state in June 2014, with his arrearage paid at a rate of $6 per week, family court documents show. His wages were garnished.

After the original order, the couple began living in the same house, and in June 2015, four of Fauquet’s children were removed from their home by DCF. A fifth child was taken by DCF shortly after being born about one year later.

Family court documents show Stratzman was found in contempt in February 2015 for failing to meet a $640 support obligation to the child cited in the original support order, and that he paid the "purge," or required amount, the following month.

Stratzman washes dishes at a local restaurant and previously held multiple jobs, including working a seasonal job for the holidays. He also has had periods of unemployment. The state garnishes his pay as a dishwasher $80 a week, and then sends it to Fauquet.

Stratzman said he wants to take care of his children but the state involvement makes no sense to him.

"Kirsten and I both tried to get it stopped. Like what's the point of taking $80 when I can just give it to her face to face?" he said.

Fauquet notified the court in September 2016 that they agreed to handle back-owed child support privately, without child support enforcement services, and are living together, court records show. Stratzman paid $300 on Sept. 21, 2016, the records show.

On Nov. 9, 2016, Stratzman said he was due to appear in court regarding the child support order, but also had a scheduled visit with his children, who were in the care of DCF. The visit was scheduled at the last minute, and he opted to go to see his children, he said. He missed the court date. A civil arrest warrant was issued the same day, ordering him to pay $1,000 cash.

Nothing came of it after that, he said. Then almost a year later, on Nov. 15, the arrest warrant was executed, court records show.

Stratzman said a state marshal arrived at his parental termination trial, but he was in court that day so the marshal left. “They went to my house, to my job to see if I was there, and I ended up going to the courthouse this past Wednesday,” he said. Last Wednesday, he went to court thinking if he voluntarily showed up, he could sort it out, but the court set an appearance bond of $1,000 and brought him to Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, he said.

He couldn't pay, so he couldn't leave. On Friday, a family support magistrate reduced the amount to zero, released him and ordered him to appear in family court on Dec. 6.

Attorney Lori Hellum, who is representing Stratzman in the parental rights case, said the arrest seemed like action on a “stale warrant.” Perhaps someone put the word out as to where he was or would be, or media coverage of his parental rights case brought him to someone’s attention, she said.

Lisa Vincent, attorney for Fauquet, said the timing of the arrest — after no action for one year — raises questions about why it was pursued last week. Being in jail “is not really helping his ability to go to work and earn a living,” she said.

Closing briefs on the couple’s parental rights case are due on Dec. 1.

The worst part of jail time was missing his son’s birthday, Stratzman said. The couple’s son turned 5 on Tuesday. Since he’s in DCF custody, Stratzman and Fauquet planned to celebrate during their scheduled weekly visit last Thursday.

“We were throwing a party for him because we won’t be able to see him on his actual birthday. I missed it,” he said.

Paul Bourdoulous, deputy director of support enforcement services for with the Connecticut Judicial Branch, said it is possible for a civil arrest warrant to be ordered but not executed for many months, for reasons such as the father can't be located. While a judge issues a civil arrest warrant, someone with an interest in the case would have to actively seek it out, similar to the way a police department requests an arrest warrant in a criminal case, he said.

Bourdoulous said he could not comment on specific cases and could not explain the one-year delay, what prompted its activation or the timing of the arrest.

Hatcher, the law professor, said the child support and child welfare systems are supposed to work for the benefit of children. But arresting a father under circumstances like Stratzman’s "harms him and it harms the child because it blocks his ability to pay.”

Stratzman remains employed.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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