Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Principal Versus Principle: A Tale of Two Families

Two news stories caught my attention this morning, and both have left me shaking my head.

The first is about a 61-year-old Michigan woman whose son died three years ago at age 24. Jermaine had gone to college to study music production, and his mother co-signed for one of his student loans -- the private one. He also had two federal loans. When Jermaine died of natural causes, his federal loans were "forgiven" immediately, which means that the we taxpayers get stuck with the loss of the unpaid debt. In contrast, the private loan repayment fell to Jermaine's mother as his co-signer. Therein lies the rub.

Jermaine left behind an infant child, and his mother reportedly has also assumed partial responsibility for the child because the mother cannot support the child. Jermaine's mother has been paying on the student loan debt for about three years, but with $10,000 remaining to be paid off, she thinks that she should not have to pay any more. She cites her poor health and the fact that she is still grieving her son's death as reasons that the loan should be forgiven. So, Ella Edwards started a petition on the website asking others to join her cause against the loan company.

So far Edwards' petition has garnered 200,000 signatures asking that Jermaine's private student loan be forgiven. Indeed they want all loans in cases like Jermaine's -- where the student dies or becomes disabled before fully repaying the loan -- to be forgiven. The "Supporters" who give their reasons for signing the petition clearly do not think responsibility is a virtue. One Supporter wrote:
nancy l.t. rosenbower STILLWATER, MN    about 1 month ago      
it is time for the money-changers and loan sharks in sheep's clothing to be held accountable for the shameful ways they do business. please, there is no reason for going after this young man's mother. he has not earning power and she is at the end of hers. have a heart and think of the person and not the dollars. shape up! (emphasis added)
Ummmm.... Nancy, there is a reason for "going after" the young man's mother. She CO-SIGNED the loan. That means she legally contracted to pay the loan in the event her son could not pay it back, whether he was alive or dead. The ignorance displayed in most of the Supporters' comments is reflective of the same entitlement attitude we saw during the housing crisis a few years ago (and continuing today) when people who bought homes they could not afford suddenly expected the finance companies to reduce their payments as well as the balance of the principal they owed. The entitlement mentality and the me-me-me-mentality is why this country is in the financial shape it is in.

As sad as the situation is for this Michigan mother, I have to side with the loan company. They should not have to absorb the loss for this man's family. Apparently, the clear majority of commenters on this story on the ABC-Yahoo website feel the same. One commenter had a great idea, saying that if each of those 200,000 people who signed the petition would instead send Jermaine's mother five cents (as in one nickel or five pennies), she could pay off $10,000 in one fell swoop. Instead, and sadly, the only thing the petition-signers  are willing to contribute is their two cents worth.

The second story is another one where a family is asking for public support. In this case a Utah family is asking for money to help them pay their legal bills. The reason they have bills is because they are engaged in a custody fight over a 1 1/2 year old child whom they want to adopt. Here is a photo of the family in happier times.

That sounds quite virtuous, but the facts of the case are not so simple. The family has set up a website
for the little girl they named Leah. They tell their version of the story and have a "Donate" button asking for help paying the attorneys who are representing them.

The biological father's version of the story is different than the Frei family's version. Terry Achane was married to the mother of the child when she gave birth prematurely. In my book, that is all that needs to be heard. The judge agreed, and has given the Frei family two weeks to turn the baby over to her father. The Frei family documented their disappointment on the Leah website after the November ruling came down from them judge.

Once again, there is no doubt the facts of this case are sad for both families fighting over this child. She is a beautiful little girl and the Frei family had virtuous intentions in wanting to give  her a good home. But having been involved in dozens of adoption cases, the law in most states favors making sure all interested parties -- namely the biological parents -- are involved and give consent when there is an adoption. I saw several placements fall through when the father (or another family member in a few cases) stepped forward to contest the adoption. As much as the Frei family loves Leah, her father loves her equally or more. He named her Teleah, and he eagerly awaits her return to South Carolina.

There are plenty of details about how this sad case developed. I do not "blame" anyone since I do not know all of the facts. But the law protects the rights of parents, and the Frei family should not be asking for donations for their legal bills. When they took this child into their home, they knew the possibilities and the risks with regard to the adoption. If they cannot pay their legal bills on their own, they should not divide people's sympathies the way their request for money is doing.

In both cases it should be responsibility as a principle over principal without responsibility.


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