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Is the act of choosing not to take care of children that you helped usher into this world an epidemic? Well, with 41.2% of all custodial parents not receiving their child support payments on time -- if at all -- I would say it's certainly well on it's way to becoming one.
That's a pretty shocking figure, but what shocked me even more was a letter that I received recently from my child support enforcement officer informing me that the court intended to close out my case. Why? Because my ex refuses to pay.
My ex and I split seven years ago, and if I had a nickel for every time he reassured the court that he had no issue with helping to pay for his kids, then I could have canceled the child support order myself because I would be loaded. In reality, a few months after being ordered to pay $702 bucks a month to help care for three children, he quit his job in favor of one that paid under the table. He also never once requested visitation.
Meanwhile, I scrambled for years to find some sense of solid footing. I busted my ass and still found myself contemplating which bills to pay and which ones could wait. There were days when I was scrambling to find change to buy toilet paper to hold us until I got paid, all the while knowing that he was laying low and living fairly well.
They say that in most cases it takes a single parent at least three months at a new full time job to be able to feel like they might be able to handle the regular bills that inevitably show up each month. Three months is enough time to be evicted, have utilities shut off and realize that you can't necessarily provide all of the basic things that your kids may need.
I'm certainly not advocating waiting for money to fall from the sky or doing nothing to better your life while waiting for money to appear in the bank. I have hustled for years to support my kids as my ex racked up child support arrears totaling over $32,000.
I wasn't greedy, but I did believe, at least at first, that he would help with the finances, since every moment of home life, homework, activities and doctor's appointments was left for me to figure out alone.
I was totally wrong, and so are many other custodial parents across the country.
The Interstate Family Support Act is in place in an attempt to ensure that all 50 states are in a legal position to enforce child support rulings. Unfortunately each state is left to their own devices to decide exactly how they will proceed.
Texas treats non-payment as a felony, many states have wanted lists that splash those labeled “non-compliant” across the newspaper and all sorts of other privileges can easily be suspended such as driving and other professional licenses. If you owe a back balance of greater than $2,500, you'll never get a new passport, and many deadbeats find their bank accounts frozen and assets drained.
My ex has been incarcerated on two occasions in the last 5 years for non-payment and they have been looking for him again for nearly a year. It's a game for him, dodge and hide until they catch you, serve 6 months and then begin the same pattern all over again. In my state, non-compliance eventually equals contempt of court and that carries a 6-month prison sentence regardless of the details of the case.
I have actually contemplated closing out the case at different times because it is obviously invisible money that will never appear and my kids are doing just fine. But for me it's not about the cash, but the principle. How can we send the message that it's absolutely OK to abandon not only your kids, but the responsibility that comes with having them?
Late last summer, his photo was in the newspaper and he was dubbed as a “most wanted” offender, until someone in an upstairs office decided to review the case. In a few short clicks of the mouse, they opted to use “rule 75" to legally close out the case completely, meaning that even the arrears balance disappears.
In other words, if you break the law and stand in contempt of court for long enough, eventually it all just goes away and your name is cleared.
I don't understand entirely how it works, but I checked with a contact that works in office and basically the wording in explanation of points 1 and 2 allows them to modify or close a case at their whim. If someone isn't paying and clearly doesn't intend to, then closing the case means less paperwork.
While the U.S. has a unified set of laws in place, allowing states to pick and choose their own protocol creates one hell of a mess. Some states are more aggressive and actually have the equivalent of bounty hunters that go out looking for deadbeats, while others don't attempt to do anything. If less than half of the custodial parents are actually receiving the funds to help provide for their kids then doesn't that demonstrate that the system is failing in a big way?
If states are simply closing cases, then it certainly sends the message that if you stay off the books and hide for long enough, then eventually it'll all disappear. Let's face it, it's not the deadbeat winning, it's their children that are losing.
Not enforcing the child support laws actually creates an even larger problem for the Welfare system that already is continuously under fire. If child support isn't being paid, then each state will pay out a small amount of cash assistance each month for those children. The custodial parent signs off on any incoming child support that may pop up and the state kind of pays it forward to help the struggling parent.
So by not enforcing the stiff penalties that do exist, some states are actually paying out far more cash assistance then they would need to otherwise. Everyone that is working and taking care of their obligations also ends up helping to support the kids left in the dust by a deadbeat!
I'm not going to pretend that I have any kind of solution here. What I do know is that if our government continues to decide that child support court orders are optional, then eventually other kinds of court rulings will also come with a built-in expiration date.
As it stands right now, I've gotten the message loud and clear that breaking at least this law is OK and my children aren't valuable enough for a court ruling to stand. The saddest part is that according to my child support enforcement officer, dozens of letters similar to mine get mailed from their office each week.
That's an awful lot of deadbeats being given a financial break while their children live in poverty.