4 The Charter of New York City recognizes a legal obligation to sup port indigent grandparents or dependent grandchildren.
but rather a failure to provide proper support,— this failure simply being more complete and noticeable in the case of those who both neglect to provide and who are away from home, especially if their whereabouts are unknown.
The causes of desertion or non-support are thus found to be as numerous and as complicated as are any causes of destitution and of crime. The unwillingness of most wives to appear in court and ask for suitable action is very general and is perfectly intelligible. Although there is no complete solution for the problem in legislation, there are great differences in the effectiveness of existing laws in mitigating the evil. An investigation made by the Philadelphia Society for Organizing Charity in 1902 indicates that in two states there was no special law on the subject of desertion and non-support of wife and chil dren; that there were sixteen states in which the only rem edy for the wife is an application for divorce; ten in which a civil remedy was provided in the form of a judicial order against the husband to pay a certain sum for the support of his family, ; eighteen states in which desertion was a criminal offence, classed as a misdemeanor, and two in which it was classed as a felony.. Charitable societies have recently given this subject increased attention, and as a rule have urged the enactment of more severe laws. lt has been argued that desertion should be made a felony, partly because this would, by increasing the gravity of the offence and its penalty, naturally decrease the number of offenders, and partly because, as a felon, the criminal would be more readily subject to extradition. While misdemeanants are extraditable as well as felons, the gov ernors of states are usually unwilling to act except in case of felony. Something could doubtless be accomplished by changes in the laws in the directions that have been indicated, and by the use of probation officers. On this subject the following resolutions were adopted by the National Conference of Charities and Correction at At lanta in 1903 : " Whereas, The desertion of wife and children by the legal head of the family, with a deliberate purpose of evading their support, has become a serious evil in the United States, entailing not only a great burden upon public and private relief funds, but causing untold suffer ing to sick women and neglected children, and seriously impairing public health and morals, and " Whereas, Detailed investigation in several states has shown that of all families under the care of private chari table associations, no less than one in ten owe their desti tution to this cause, and that the laws in twenty states for the punishment for desertion of a family in destitute circumstances are without effectual sanction, because de serters know that they have only to step over the state line for immunity, and " Whereas, The National Conference of Charities and Correction believes that the application of extradition to this class of family deserters will prove the most effective remedy and deterrent ; therefore, be it " Resolved, that the National Conference of Charities and Correction petition the governors of the different states of the United States to cooperate in checking this growing evil by exercising their powers of extradition, by issuing requests for the return of fugitive deserters whose families are dependent, as well as by honoring requisitions from other states."
The relief problem which is precipitated by desertion may now be considered. Legislation and education will lessen and may in time remove it, but not at once. It was pointed outs at a recent conference on the subject of family desertions that the first essential for the charitable visitor is to recognize a case of desertion when he encoun ters it. For a long time there was no distinction made between the deserted family and that of the widow, or, for that matter, between the family of the real deserter, who has left for good, and that of the " spurious deserter," who has not gone away at all, or who has gone for a brief period in connivance with the wife, in order to facilitate her application for relief. There are husbands, so-called, who desert their wives on the occasion of each childbirth, returning after some weeks to find that medical attend ance, nursing, medicines, and supplies have been furnished without expense to them, and even a stock of infants' and I Miss Mary E. Richmond, at a conference in New York, April 29, 1903.