How did we get here?
One hundred and fifteen billion, five hundred and forty-four million, three hundred and thirty-eight thousand, eight hundred and eighty-six dollars.
This is the figure owed in child support arrears to American children in the 2015 Report to Congress from the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.
Just the appendix of this document is 136 pages with facts and figures of all sorts broken down by year. It is a staggering piece of work that boils down to one sad fact. America’s children are being seriously shortchanged, not only by their own parents but by a system that was put in place to protect them and serve their best interests. How did it get to this?
The US Child Support Agency was set up in 1975 under president Gerald Ford, President Ford was himself, a child of divorce whose father failed to pay support, but it appears the government has had a hand in trying to protect children since 1910 with the Uniform Desertion and Non-Support Act.
President Ford signed the Social Security Act Amendment establishing the Section IV-D that requires states to set up child support collection agencies. The amendment also allows for states to receive federal funding and incentives to collect child support for IV-D cases.
Through the 1970’s and 1980’s divorce rates skyrocketed due to states passing no-fault divorce. Women had been primary caregivers while men were primary wage earners so this brought into our legal system the issues of spousal support, child support, custody and distribution of property as marriages dissolved. With these issue’s now being decided by courts men who felt unfairly treated started forming Father’s Rights Groups to protest what they felt was unfair treatment in the courts with regards to monetary obligations and child custody.
In the early 80’s Jerry Reed came out with a hilarious country song, “She got the Goldmine (I got the shaft)” which he performed with superstars like Glen Campbell and on Dolly Parton’s TV variety show to uproarious laughter and singing along by the audience. “While she’s living like a queen on Alimony, I’m working two shifts, eatin’ bologna!”
I remember singing this and laughing along at the words I didn’t understand.
In 1981 the Federal government stepped in again to authorize the IRS to intercept tax refunds for delinquent child support payments and again in 1988 with the Family Support Act allowing states to garnish wages for the purpose of collecting child support.
In the meantime, Father’s Rights Groups got organized and vocal. Women’s Rights groups formed, social stereotypes of lazy women collecting unearned money for children and “welfare queens” invaded the culture. Everyone had something to say about these issues.
Now I don’t know about you, but I did not stand at that alter in my gorgeous white gown, gazing at Prince Charming and thinking, “In ten years he will be an alcoholic, he will never spend time with me or the kids, he will steal money for booze. I will have to pack up and leave him with two small children to care for alone. That is going to be great! I can’t wait!”
Did you get married intending to get divorced? No… but life happens. And while life happens children are growing up and watching us. And now we have generations of children who have grown up in an atmosphere of divorce, a war between men and women, and they, the children, are the pawns in this most dysfunctional and destructive of personal situations.
And so the government steps in again, now with fatherhood.gov. There is disagreement as to which administration actually started this but in 1995 President Bill Clinton did request every agency to review programs and policies to strengthen the roles of father’s. It seems over the past 8 years the focus has been on incarcerated father’s being reintegrated into society at large and family life in particular. The focus of the Office of Child Support enforcement has been on inmates with child support arrears and how that has “falsely inflated” the numbers on the arrears table. OCSE now wants incarceration not be viewed as “voluntary unemployment” and arrears forgiven in situations of incarceration.
I agree, someone cannot pay child support while in jail. And coming out of jail already in debt is problematic. But guess what? It is NOT the child’s fault! It is not the fault of the caregiver who took care of that child with no help while the father was incarcerated! Children do not require food, clothing or school supplies if a parent goes to jail?
On the Dad Talk Blog on fatherhood.gov, an article published on 01/10/2017 states that 92% of 800,000 incarcerated parents are fathers. IF they all are released with approximately 8,000 in arrears that only accounts for $5,888,000,000 of the $15,544,338,886.00 in arrears. That is a difference of $9,656,338,866.00.
Nine Billion, six hundred and fifty-six million, three hundred and thirty-eight thousand, eight hundred and sixty-six dollars….
That has nothing to do with incarcerated parents not paying child support.
Where is the 9.6 billion?
All you have to do is actually go to a IV-D court proceeding to find out. Case after case postponed or actually dismissed for non-suit. This means if you can dodge process servers and you are not served your due process, you cannot be brought in front of the judge for any enforcement action. In Texas alone, 66% of cases that are to be enforced are dismissed for nonsuit of service.
If an obligor parent does actually show up, they are likely to stand in front of the judge, wearing brand new jeans, iPhone in pocket, and state they are currently unemployed. The judge tells them to “get a job and report back earnings!” and they walk. The 30 days they are given to do so will turn into six months before the next court date, if you are lucky. The state agencies often ask the custodial parents for information regarding the non-custodial’s parent address and employment.
So by the numbers it seems our biggest problem in enforcing child support is simply parents who do not want to pay and will manipulate the system to avoid paying.
What can be done about this?
First we have to acknowledge that divorce is an extremely stressful event with few positive’s. It is the breaking of a covenant relationship between two people and occurs under the worst circumstances of human behavior.
Abuse, addiction, infidelity, other forms of betrayal and inability to manage finances and children all complicate the issue. But the fact remains, divorce is painful and humiliating. People should have to go through mandatory divorce counseling to deal with these painful emotions and be guided through better decision making so that the children do not suffer.
Then you have the family factor. What had once been big happy holidays full of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all now take sides when a couple splits. No matter how much Grandma loved you and her grandkids the fact remains you left her baby boy and took the grands with you. When the process server comes to find her baby boy so he can be brought back to court to pay his child support Grandma turns back into Mother Bear and is not about to tell the process server that he’s in the back bedroom. It’s human nature to try and protect your own against any perceived threat.
Social media comments about families helping a deadbeat get out of paying child support are in the tens of thousands on pages dedicated to these topics and giving parents a place to vent online. My own ex-father in law has provided his son thousands of dollars and a very nice truck to drive but not helped his grandchildren or even acknowledged them since the divorce. Both of my ex sister’s in law have also provided assistance to their brother, fully knowing he was in violation of court orders and not even attempting to see or provide for his children. None of these family members have made any attempts to remain a part of these kids’ lives.
And it’s the kids who pay the ultimate price with unexplainable feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem. Their dad no longer cares about them and neither does Papaw or Aunt Cissy. You simply cannot explain bad adult behavior to children.
If family members were to face civil aiding and abetting charges for some of these offenses such as interfering with process servers and hiring family members for cash under the table, I think they would be less likely to shield deadbeats.
But the simplest way to enforce child support NOW and collect that 9-Billion-dollar debt for our kids would be to simply allow for e-service in family court proceedings. Put a stop to the postponements and dismissals for “non suit of service” in one easy step. Allow for internet posting and family notification of service for those who are proven “runners” and cannot be located to serve process on.
And then, actually arrest these law breakers when they do not show up for court or blatantly disobey court orders.
Why do you pay your parking and speeding tickets? It’s because you KNOW that points are going to be assigned to your license if you do not and your insurance rates are going to go up, and you may actually loose that driver’s license. If there is no consequence, there is no reason to obey a law you don’t want to obey. And child support evaders have learned that dodging process servers or simply not paying is not going to result in any consequence. So they do not pay. Laws are not enforced by the State Agencies responsible and law enforcement will not prosecute offenders.
The stereotype of the “poor guy” who lost everything in a divorce and now sits in jail because he missed a child support payment needs to be thrown out with the stereotype of women having babies for a “child support check”.
A Denton County Texas Sherriff informed me in 2014, “Oh even if we arrest someone for nonpayment we process them right out, there is no room in the jail for that.”
On 2/08/2012 I got the first support my children had received in 21 months. When I asked the Plano Texas, OAG’s office “what about the arrears? Where do we go from here?” I was told by the call center officer, “Our job is not to arrest people but get you some cash and he made a payment!”
Tom M. of Lucas County, Ohio was told by the county child support agency, “after 18 months of trying to get the non-custodial parent to show up for a hearing we are dropping your case. You make $35 an hour why do you need child support anyway?” Tom is a single father to four teenagers, that’s why. And he had followed all court orders and shown up for NINE hearings his deadbeat blew off or attempted to reschedule.
A single mom of three in Wisconsin, was told by Taylor County Child Support, “to get a second job” this mom who still has minor children and preferred not to give her name states she is already working 55-60 hours a week.
Wendy B. of Massachusetts has an interstate case with Ohio. The sheriff’s department in Ohio told her, “We do not go to their houses, they might have a gun!” and cited “officer safety protocols” as his rationale for this. I want our police officers to be safe as well, but if they aren’t arresting the law breakers…Do we have laws or not?
Jody J. from Wisconsin has an interstate case with Illinois after her ex-spouse moved to avoid paying child support. Her FOC caseworker has had the new address and all information since May of 2016 and still has not registered her case, after ten months, citing the fact that she was new on the job and “initially did the registration incorrectly and they have to run over to another office to send faxes.”
Rachel A. of Utah was told by the Office of Recovery Services, “We can’t do anything because you have not provided an address for your ex-spouse.” Rachel was also told that “if enough time goes by without you providing this information your case will be dropped.”
In Florida, two members of the Manatee County Sherriff’s department told me “we are not going to go sit on their house for that!” (referring to a warrant for nonpayment of child support/contempt of court) and another officer told me, “it’s up to the child support enforcement office as to what we do with warrants, you need to call them for more information.” And Florida Child Support Enforcement when looking at a record of someone who has avoided process servers over 8 times across four states, owing well over $25K in arrears, meeting all criteria for federal prosecution under the 1998 Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act said, “We do not do that here.”
So who does?
The state agencies are receiving federal dollars to REFUSE to enforce federal law. Law enforcement is turning a blind eye, and deadbeats are working this broken system at a huge cost to our children.
$115,544,338,886.00 and counting.
Are you okay with that? Are your kids?