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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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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.

For David Abildgaard

Obviously, you are not familiar with the Iowa laws regarding the child support collectinos. There is currently in process a review for modification of the child support amount I am to receive. The state office is putting all the paperwork together to present to a judge to have his monthly payment lowered to roughly 100/month, which will barely pay for my son's school lunches, and 2 prs of contacts every month. You are saying that I should foot the rest of expense to raise him? I don't buy my kids expensive items, I try to make due with what we can get buy with. I have never asked him to pay more than the court ordered amount. Not every mom is out to screw the father over. I just want him to do what is right and stop trying to get out of paying to support his son.

For: Peggy Hember

I agree with you that parents should support their kids, but don't agree with the statement indicating the state will help him reduce his child support.

The fact is that NO STATE will go out of their way to reduce any child support obligation because it's not in their best interests. As I have said before, the states rely on federal funding based on the amount of money they collect. If they reduce one's obligation, they will get less in funding. Not something they want to do. In fact, it's almost impossible because they refer to "earning potential" and suggest a person should always be able to make the same amount or even more than they once did.

These systems appear to be fair on the surface and imply they are doing what's right, but the truth is that they are lining their pockets with taxpayer dollars while drawing a bigger wedge between parents and their kids.

What the child support enforcement agencies (CSEA) should do is require custodial parents to develop a budget outlining actual monthly expenses per child and base child support on that. Of course, that amount should not include the costs incurred by the custodial parent. For instance; the cost of groceries, rent, and utilities should be divided based on the total occupancy of the domicile. Then, only the expenses for each child can be determined. What that means is that the custodial parent and any others living in the house do not get a free ride. So, non-custodail parents would truly be supporting their kids; not the ex.

Of course, CSEA and the legislation will not go for such an idea because they could stand to lose more federal funding by actually being fair to both parents.

Wake up people! This has always been about federal money (your tax dollars)being sucked into each states budget, while using the kids as an excuse to get it.

I have a 15 yr old son, that his father is more than 19,000 behind on child support because he refuses to accept any job available to support himself and his son. He is once again getting the states help to try to lower his support amount when he as already admitted in court that he works for cash and doesn't document his income. I have held down the same job for more than 12 yrs and have to cover what he doesn't pay. By the states not requiring a non-custodial parent, who doesn't pay,to prove they are searching for work, they are punishing those parents who do work and taking care of their kids. This should be no different than those people receiving unemployment benefits, they have to prove their employment searches. Stay-at-home mom's shouldn't be any different. If you don't have custody of your kids, you should be forced to work to support them. Intentionally not supporting children is neglecting them and their needs.

I lost my job about mid Jan...I thought It would be easy to find another job. But it hasn't, I've been looking for a job for months..now..I face jail time if I don't come up with 309 dollars by the end of this month. If it wasn't for my wifes mom paying the bills and her food stamps..I would have nothing. Her car is now broke down, we have no money to fix it. She went to school and has a degree and she is even having problems looking for work and as for me..I just went to high school..I would expect it to be harder for me..but not her..our country is in trouble and we need help..fast. To be a dad that owes back payments for his kids is very hard. There needs to be some help. Nasa can spend 79 million to crash a unman craft into the moon..but they can't spend one cent to help out fellow americans down on their luck. All I can say is Good Luck to all the men out there like me..its not easy...and the way it looks..its not going to get that way for a long long time.

For: Jolene Kraklio

Usually, child support ends when the kids turn 18 and finish high school; whichever is later. Paying for college is something that should have been included in the divorce decree. The fact is that a college education is not a requirement for raising a child. In fact, the child becomes an adult when they become of age. The problem I see with this suggestion is that a non-custodial parent is caught in the Child Support Enforcement Act for an additional 4 years. I'm sure these state agencies would love that additional money flowing through their system so they can increase their federal funding. However, the only true way to break ties with the custodial parent is get obligations over with. As of now, these agencies continue to build wedges between parents and create additional heartache. To answer your question; I personally object to anything that keeps the state agencies involved in private lives. Want a free education? Have the kids join the military. At least they would earn it, and wouldn't be extending the the pain and suffering caused by financial strain.

Can anyone tell me where to write to to get the law changed that divorced parents do not have to pay for college? My husband lost his job in January and child support recovery told him since he only had a year left to pay he couldn't get the child support lowered. I think it is unfair that married couples do not have to pay for their childrens college. Is there anyone out there who agrees with me?

To: Dave Rogers

Dear Dave, it seems as though you have been able to maintain a positive attitude after all you have been through. As for me, I can never get passed the wrongdoing of this corruption.

I refuse to let people walk over me, but I find myself in a losing situation because no one really cares except those of us trapped in similar situations. We are up against a legal system that uses child suuport as a source or personal income. Not only do we support our kids, we support our ex wives and the system that represents them.

What I will never do is give more than I'm ordered. Unfortunately, I refuse to buy anything for my daughter as long as I'm paying so much support. Someday she might ask why, and I'll explain that the 1200.00 a month I give should cover all her needs and the presents she expects to get on holidays and birthdays.

The fact is, many of us give more than we should. So, why should we keep giving in addition to what's already being TAKEN? As you saw for yourself, you don't get any extra crdit for going above and beyond. I think if dads want to give more, they should send it directly to the system so at least they get credit. Then, tell the ex she will get a monthly check that is larger than normal and the excess is supposed to be used for any gifts. The state will be happy because they still report it as a collected amount. The ex will be happy because she gets more money, and the father will know he provided a little more for a special occasion. If the mother blows it on something other than a gift, then she gets to explain why she didn't buy little Susie the present you sent extra money for.

For me, it's apparent the State of Texas and my ex wife are so determined to make this a money issue versus good parenting, so I'll follow suit and pay what I have too. In the end, my child will lose her father because of greedy people and not a selfish dad. LET THEM EXPLAIN where all the money went; because we are not entitled to that type of information.

Guy's/Dudes,I feel ya! I lost my job that paid me $19.00hr, I have paid pretty high child support,But I always bought my daughter lots of extra things,example,I would take her to toys r us give her a large buggie and say fill it up with anything you want,take her to all name brand stores gap,pac sun,also support her art hobbie with all kinds of supplies and special art tables to work from, just to name a few things, she is around 10 at that time, I would get her $100.00 hair styles,will you get the message. She needed a retainer for her teeth it was around $1000.00 I paid for the whole thing and left the payments in my ex wifes name so I could help her with building her credit up. Well I lost my job ,it went over seas,my daughter was 14 at this time,my ex wife told me dont worry about it you have done more than your share, she asked me what i was going to do,I said I would like to be a massage therapist, and that I would keep medical insurance on my daughter and send money every month and work on building up my clients,my ex wife said go for it good luck, so I pay a few thousands dollars and get to school, 2 weeks into class my ex wife flip flops on me saying she needs more money,then she got the state on me within 30days of me going to school,so I had to get a lawyer $2,000, go to court,I got my ass kicked, They figured my massage at a crazy income plus my tips,and the judge said i could work flipping burgars and massage cause at the time I wasnt making very much money right out of massage school,then my ex said I didnt see my daughter very much,the judge added more money to my child support, So I couldnt afford to keep up my massage license, so I had to drop them,but my lawyer said its to late to change this cause the judge signed the orders,O by the way since I didnt get the modification right away they pilled up several thousand in back support,right now I make about $10.00 an hour,no massage,and iam paying more now than I was when I was makeing twice the money, I got 7more months ,and about half the back paid. I found out that my daughter droped out of school in th 8th grade,plus she has failed about 3 grades for days missed like 100 days in a school year, then her mom pulled her out of school said she was going to home school her,I looked into this and found out that she is not being home schooled, little to say I havent spoken to my ex wife or my daughter in about 3yrs,the last phone call i got was from ex saying that my daughter needed $800.00dollar hair extenions or my daughter was going to harm herself,need less to say I dont need that kind of drama so I changed my phone number,they can get in touch with me through a 3rd party,well thats most of my story, good luck guys,the system is very unfair to dads O by the way Iam having a real hard time, I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning,I have had to sell my car,all my massage equipment,and several other things,I have gone hungry,have had mental break down where I would cry for no reason, I feel sick all the time,iam a member of a local gym and I try to go when i can,it does seem to help,my mom lets me use her car for work or to the gym, I do believe things will get better, I have only one way to go and thats up !

To: Richard Dewey

I just re-read the comments and I find your point of view very refresshing. I too can attest to the point you laid out on non-custodial vs. custodial expenses. It seems most people are so blinded by the rhetoric of the day, which is commonly spewed carelessly in the family courts by morally bankrupt Lawyers, and simply respond in haste without concern for the entire story. That is not to say that all lawyers are bad, certainly I can list many Lawyers I know personnly who are very upstanding individuals and people I would enjoy spending my time with. Unfortunately it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch, and the same goes for some of the parents involved as well.

-- Basil Phanara

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