Today’s post isn’t going to have anything to do with homeschooling, but it’s something I think many single parents who have custody will be able to relate to: child support.
Imagine a biological father, who has three children with two mothers. One girl with one mother, two boys with the other. Imagine this father has never voluntarily paid the court-ordered child support. Instead, he only pays after he’s held in contempt of court for failure to pay, and then he only pays a purge to get out of jail. He quits jobs or works under the table to avoid having the child support taken from his paycheck via an income deduction order.
Now, imagine that he owes approximately $25,000 to the daughter, and $35,000 to the sons. He’s been taken to court repeatedly in the last few years. In the last year, he’s paid approximately $1,200 in purges toward the daughter. In the last 4 years, he’s paid $50 toward the sons. He was recently arrested for failure to appear at the latest contempt hearing for the sons, and one day later, released on his own recognizance and not paying a single cent.
Does this sound real to you or like a story? Allow me to confirm which one it is for you: It’s real. In fact, that father happens to be my ex-husband.
I’m sharing a lot of personal information here today for a reason. My situation, as ridiculous as it is, is not the worst of them. There are other custodial parents out there that are even worse off than I am. There are parents who haven’t gotten a dime, ever.
But you see, in my situation, the court has access to both cases. They could easily see the inconsistencies and rectify them. But they don’t. Nor do they do anything to actually make him pay.
This is the problem. This is a broken system. This is not a flawed system, or an overwhelmed one, or one that is trying its best. The child support system is broken. Period. It is not working.
Children are being made to suffer because the child support system does nothing to ensure they are actually supported. It’s a system that puts deadbeat parents in jail and lets them go after paying a chunk of cash that won’t go very far, and thinks that doing that repeatedly will eventually make a difference. It’s a system that suspends a deadbeat parent’s driver’s license, with the theory that they will start paying so they can get that license back and drive again. The problem with that theory? It doesn’t work! When you suspend their license, you enable them. You give them an excuse for not working! “Well, I can’t work, because I live where there’s no public transportation and I can’t ride a bike to a job interview. You suspended my license so I can’t work.”
Of course, that excuse doesn’t fly in court (not that the punishment amounts to much), but that doesn’t matter. They don’t need an excuse that works in court, they just need one to justify it to themselves. They can portray themselves as a victim and convince themselves, their families and friends that they’re the victims in this situation. Going to jail becomes a sign of martyrdom for them.
I have the utmost respect for the parents who are doing their best to pay child support, and are struggling, or who actually are one of the few whose ex really is screwing them over. A very dear friend of mine has a husband who is one of those men – he does everything he can to support his children financially, but his ex refuses to agree to a modification now that he makes less money.
I have no respect for men like my ex, who just don’t care. And I’ve begun to lose all respect for the system that does nothing to actually help the kids in these situations.
I don’t have all the answers to fix the system and make it effective. I wouldn’t presume to try to claim that I can fix it. But I can see that it’s not working as it is, and something’s got to change.
The consequences for not paying child support need to be severe enough to have a real impact on a deadbeat parent’s life, and made clear from the start so that they know what they’re facing if they don’t pay. There also needs to be enough flexibility for a judge to look at each case and determine that while a parent might not be doing what they should, they’re doing what they can, and not punish them as severely, or at all. More than that, though, if you get so far behind that you’re into 5-digit figures, there should never, ever be an option to pay $50 and get out of jail. When you owe $28,000 (which is what my ex owed when he paid that $50) in child support, paying $50 is 0.17857142857142858% of $28,000. Yes, I went that far out on the percentage, because it’s important that you see just how little was paid. And again – there are other parents that are getting even less, and owed far more. But that? That is a slap in the face. It’s as literal a “Get out of jail free” card as I’ve ever seen.
People have long been arguing that the justice system as a whole is broken, flawed, not working, needs to be fixed, etc. I’m not going to get into the system as a whole, because you can’t fix the whole system all at once.
But fixing the child support system could go a long way. Maybe if deadbeats knew they would be facing severe consequences, they’d rethink being deadbeats – and that would save jail space for real criminals. If custodial parents actually got support payments, there’s probably a lot of parents who could stop using Medicaid, food stamps, or other public assistance to help support their kids. We could save time on court hearings for contempt, stop forcing working custodial parents to take time off (thereby costing them even MORE money they can’t afford to go without), and spend the gas to go to court and argue for why they should be getting money that everyone already knows they should be getting.
I don’t know what we need to do to fix this. But I know something needs to be done. Children shouldn’t be made to go without because their parents got divorced.