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Economy gives some dads a bad rap

Shadows of mother with children.

TEXT OF STORY

Stacey Vanek-Smith: It seems like the recession and the unemployment rate are hitting every aspect of life these days. Divorce is no exception. As more parents feel a loss of income, many are asking family courts to adjust child support payments. The bad economy is also pushing some parents into payment delinquency, contributing to the problem of deadbeat dads.

From Boston, Monica Brady-Myerov reports.


Monica Brady-Myerov: When someone loses a job, the bills don't stop coming. Mortgage, car payments, health insurance and for some, child support. But Ned Holstein, president of Fathers and Families, a group that presents dads, says there's a big difference.

Ned Holstein: Everybody is struggling. But someone who has a child support order is the only person who's going to be put in jail, because they can't pay their debts.

That's why more parents who've lost their jobs are asking the courts to lower their child support payments. That's what's happening to Jim Feeney. He's a divorced father of four who lives on Cape Cod. Before he lost his job in January, he made about $85,000 a year. He's required to may $3,200 a month in child support and alimony. When he was laid off, he immediately asked the court if he could pay less.

Jim Feeney: First, I filed for unemployment, I filed for welfare, food stamps, because I had no income. I had no savings.

Feeney spoke about his case at a restaurant after his hearing, which he had to wait two and a half months for. The judge denied his request to lower his payments and after six months after not meeting them, Feeney was put in jail. After two days behind bars, he paid a $5,000 fine and was released. But his stint in jail didn't lower his child support obligations and the fines he's racking up because he's not paying.

Feeney: There's penalties to the state, there's penalties that go to my ex-wife, there's interest to the state, there's interest that goes to my ex-wife.

Feeney's former wife refused to comment for this story. But another ex-wife of another man who just lost his job does have something to say. She's Julie Baker, she's the primary care giver to two children, ages five and nine. Her ex was recently laid off.

Julie Baker: The first thing he said was, "I'll try to keep up the child support."

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Baker said her former husband has been a supportive dad who's always paid on time. But if the tables were turned:

Baker: If I lost my job, I can't say to the kids, "You know what? You can't have lunch today. You know what? I'm sorry that your shoes are too small."

And more out-of-work parents want to change their child support agreements. But just asking the court to lower your payments, because you lost your job, isn't always enough.

Divorce attorney B.J. Krintzman says the courts are slow moving.

B.J. Krintzman: They're not going to get very far if they go in that week and say, "I lost my job, so I can no longer pay." Usually there has to be some kind of period of time that's gone by, so the obligor has to show attempts to get a job.

Some judges are sympathetic and lower payments right away, because they know it's unlikely someone will get a new job quickly. But typically it takes six months for a judge to make a decision.

Holstein: And during those couple of months, you can be going broke in a hurry.

Ned Holstein of Fathers and Families.

Holstein: Then when you get the hearing, typically, the family court judges will not give you relief at the first hearing. They say, "Well, how do we know this is going to be long standing? You might get a job next week. Also, you've got some assets, you can pay it out of your assets. And so, I'll see you again in three more months."

But it's putting fathers who mean well and love their kids in jail, because they can't pay.

Krintzman: And this is not daddy jail; this is real jail.

But divorce attorney B.J. Krintzman says what ends up happening is dads borrow money from family and friends.

Krintzman: Usually it is very rare that someone stays in jail for 30 days. So they do find ways to find the money and pay up the back child support and get themselves out of jail.

And when they do get out of jail, they'll owe even more, because child support obligations don't stop while someone is behind bars.

In Boston, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov for Marketplace Money.

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According to the Iowa CSRU you can have you child support amount reviewed for modification every 2 years. This is what they are currently doing to me. I have to ask a judge to not lower my support to the $50/month that the CSRU is requesting. I sat down the other day and broke out exactly what it costs me to raise my son every month. Shelter, food, lights, gas, water, insurance, medical, etc. At a minimum, it costs me over $700 for my teenage boy. The current order is for 420.00, and now they want to lower it. I have 3 boys, not just 1 to support. My son's father only has the 1 child. He is lazy, and hides his income by being self employed and taking checks for work done for homeowners and cashes them at the bank they are drawn on. I don't think my current order is unreasonable. People seeking absorbetant amounts must be buying the most expensive items out there.

I believe child support is a far cry from it's simple legal beginnings. Judges only put you in jail for C.S. debt. Plus, no jury trial. No other debt, it's the moment we live in. I am ordered to pay rock star CS and alimoney. Do I,no, because the original decree, and time to modification was over 2 years. $300k in legal bills & time killed my company. The goose (business)is dead. Now it's time for me to go to jail. You see, the judicial mentality is different than it is in business, the real world. You plan, work towards success and hopefully it pans-out. If you tell a Judge this (down-ward $ for CS & alimoney) and your ex opposes you, you are finished because lawyers and experts do spin the truth. Judges definitely want to kick anybody's ass who makes alot more than them. Yes, it's true, most judges are not noble individuals. There is no downside for any Judge who acts bad or even illegally, no job loss, no unemployment, always have a taxpayer funded retirement. It's much harder in the business world. Ladies quit being bitter, my ex is still very very very bitter after I made her a millionaire.

I personally want to vomit on some of the comments being made. I've had my son now for 6 years and have not seen a dime of child support, no school supply help, nothing. I filed for support and got told off basically because I am a guy. If I were a woman, bet you ten to one I'd be getting support. But here in MN, she chooses not to work, so I get nothing, yet she continues to have kids with other men...pathetic. Yet, I can't take her right away from seeing my son in which, I do all the driving too. Hmm, fair?

It's legalized extortion, plain and simple and women work the system like a well oiled machine. I am a woman and I have seen my brother, friends, nephews and cousins all trapped by women with so called unplanned pregnancies and sucked into the most corrupt, unfair system known to man. They don't care if you are the biological father, they don't care if the money is spent on the children, they don't care if the custodial parent is following the visitation guidelines they just don't care, keep sending in the money. It's extortion.

I applaud all of the parents out there who are current on their child support. Your children will appreciate it when they realize that you may have gone through hardships to keep paying to take care of them. My husband has kept up on his child support, but they don't appreciate all he has done for them. Here's to all the good and rsponsible parents out there!!

Peggy,

You make some really good points about neglect. If he isn't providing any support, then he is neglecting his responsibility as a parent.

Unfortunately, states group people like me with him. I pay more than my share of support and have amassed over $100,000 thus far. Before it's all said and done, my ex will have rung in nearly $250,000 (1/4 million). Yet, I still get treated like a deadbeat when I deal with the Texas Attorney General-Child Support Division. It's because of people like your ex.

As far as those on welfare, that will never change. Many low income people (women) involve themselves with men who share the same demographics. They are poor, unskilled, criminal, or just plain lazy. Many of the run off and have no real source of income. Mothers left behind resort to government aid to provide for their kids in place of a deadbeat father. Mothers such as yourself who earn a living, do not qualify for welfare and are left holding all responsibility of financial support. I commend you for doing your part.

Originally, Child Support Enforcement laws were passed to keep women from going to welfare by targeting fathers for support. Sounded like a good plan because non-custodial parents should be partly responsible for supporting their kids. This plan also sounded good because the typical working class citizen would think their tax dollars would not be wasted on welfare.

So, Congress passed these laws and now the target became ALL non-custodial parents versus the suspected deadbeats. Many responsible dad's (such as myself) willingly provide support as agreed to by both parents. Now, we are locked into a system that treats us like we are all bad.

The real kicker is what most people DON'T KNOW. It costs millions of dollars more each year to ensure peole pay support than it did before the law was passed. And, the same people who applied for welfare before the laws were passed are still doing it.

What essentially happened is these lawyers, judges, and attorney generals created a smoke screen that guarantees their financial success.

For David Abildgaard

Thank you for your acknowledgement that I do not benefit from what the Iowa CSRU is currently doing. My ex works construction, and is considered self employed, and harder to track. I was basically told by a state worker yesterday that since my son is not going without food or clothing and I am not drawing state aid, that my case is not priority. It doesn't matter that he owes me that much. He is one that knows how to beat the system, and even admitted in court that he didn't document his income. The state accepted a form that he signed that he stated he made approx $800/month, but gave no way to back that up. They accepted that along with his signature and tried to lower my support payments to $50/month. I had to pay to hire an attorney (cost me $2000) to fight what the CSRU was doing and base the amount on what his earning capacity is using his job history, training, and current wage for that position since he wouldn't provide any documentation of what his income actually was. There are many others out there in Iowa in the same boat as I am. We fight and struggle to support our kids, while the ex refuses to hold down employment and we end up getting the shaft. Feel free to read some posts from some other Iowa parent’s issues. http://iowachildsupport.multiply.com/journal

Per state laws, in order for you to draw unemployment you have to prove you are looking for work, correct? Why are our kids less important? Any non-custodial parent not paying child support should be forced to prove they are either employed or looking for work. If they refuse to do this, then the state should not be helping them to lower their payment amounts. By allowing a parent to get further behind they are punishing the parent who is working hard to support their kids. I asked why a parent who refuses to pay support isn't charged with neglect. I was told that the state doesn't consider non-payment of child support as neglect. Now, tell me if I am wrong, but isn't child support to prove the basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing? By a parent not paying child support, they are not providing those basic necessities. If the custodial parent didn't provide those things we would be charged with neglect. The non-custodial parent gets off because the custodial parent is providing the basic necessities. This is wrong!! It is one thing if the parent has been laid off and can't find a job. With the economy these days it is so hard to find work. But those parents who refuse to pay are neglecting their kids. Aren't the kids important enough to make sure that all parents are doing all they can to take care of their kids? My husband tells me I am beating a dead horse, but if no one stands up and brings attention to this matter, that it will only continue to get worse. I think something should be done at the federal level. If these states actually considered that if they could get more non-custodial parents to pay their child support, that maybe there wouldn’t be as many people drawing state assistance. Wouldn’t that be better, to not have so many people on public assistance?

For Peggy Hember

I agree with you 100%. The amount you currently receive is close to what state's provide foster parents to meet the needs of each child. Personally, I think the child's needs are somewhere between $500-$600 dollars a month. I personally have no problem paying that versus my current amount. Without a doubt, you are not the benefactor of excess child support as my ex is.

If Iowa is anything like Texas (not likely), then your ex should be paying 20% of his net income towards child support. The calculations aren't quite black and white as many states make it out to be since the percentage includes all taxable income within a given time. This includes bonuses, overtime, severance pay and other entitlements.

To caluclate, they only deduct state and federal taxes (singe person) and any health care paid towards the children before determining the percentage.

By reducing your ex's amount to only $100.00 per month, they are suggesting his total income is "less" than $500.00 per month. If true, then a man who only makes that amount is either young and stupid, lazy, uneducated, or has managed to find a way to beat the system through "cash only" employment. However, many states will revert to "earning potential" as a means to prevent reducing child support. What they essentially claim is when a person reaches a certain income level, that is their earning potential. Personally, I don't always agree with that because people lose their jobs and have to settle for a lower income to make a living.

I hope all works well for you. Although you are on the other side of the fence, it doesn't mean you're a bad parent. But, there are many of them out there who take advantage of a corrupt child support legal system. I welcome any other comments you or others care to share. I may not be able to change the system, but I hope I can help others from going down a path of destruction.

For David Abildgaard:

The court ordered amount is 420.00 month. I carry all the insurance, I would be okay with dropping it down some, but not to 100.00. Now tell me, what does 420.00 pay for.. think about it.. it costs at least that to cover all food, his share of shelter, lights, gas, I don't think that amount it too high.

For: Peggy Hember

Please don't misunderstand me. I strongly believe both parents should meet their responsibility when it comes to caring for their kids.

Unfortunately, the states got involved and made a private matter their own business. Like I have said several times, they get millions of dollars in their pockets to make sure non-custodial parents pay support and health care.

From a taxpayer standpoint, I don't think my hard earned dollars should go to a system that makes sure other people pay child support. Consider many American's who don't even have kids. Should their tax dollars be spent making sure others pay child support? Of course not! But the general public has no idea these attorneys and judges lobbied politicians to create a system that guarantees funding.

To answer your question; I admit that I'm no legal expert in Iowa state law. Many states differ a bit, but they all follow federal guidelines or they wouldn't get the guaranteed funding I spoke of before. If they are working to reduce his support order, then that tells me that he does not have a legitimate form of employment. If he did, all the state would have to do is subpoena his pay records to show how much money he was really making. If he is working under the table or is self employed, then there isn't much you can do. Those folks seem to be getting away with not paying their fair share, while leaving custodial parents such as yourself in a bind.

The other point I was trying to make and will never change my position on is "how much" is really needed to care for one child. That is an answer no CSEA will answer because they like the flexibility to increase child support based on a non-custodial parent's income. For instance, if they felt that the needs of a child were consistent with what they pay in foster care, I would agree to that. However, because I make much more than that, the feel I should give more.

The reality in all of this is that the state banks off of me as does my ex wife. Even if I had to give 5000.00 a month, my daughter would not see any additional benefit from it.

In all honesty, I think all custodial parents should lay out the actual expense to show what it cost per child. However, many of these parents would refuse to such a thing because it may mean less spending money for themselves. Of course, the states do not want to encounter such a decrease either.

So, I will ask you the same question I have asked many others; without assuming you are entitled to free rent, utilities, groceries, and other benefits through the collection of child support, how much do you spend a month on one child?

The reason I ask is that I pay $1202.00 a month, and my ex gets an additional $500.00 from the state for the same child (because we adopted her). No one has ever explained to me how my money is used, and the Texas Attorney General says they don't have too!

The sad thing about all of this is that the state makes no effort to ensure I have visitation with her. When it comes down to it, these agencies (and many custodial parents) are only concerned about the money; not the father.

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