Deadbeat or Not? Child Support Isn’t Simple

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Family courts haven’t figured out a plan to differentiate obvious deadbeat dads from those that truly can’t afford to pay. But isn’t that what famiiy court judges are for?

A 2007 study by The Urban Institute for the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that in the nine states the study focused on- Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas – the highest debtors, those who owed $30,000 or more, were the ones who had the lowest recorded income. The study acknowledged that these men could be hiding assets, participating in illegal activities or self-employed but that they their recorded wages were $10,000 or less. Given the high rate of black unemployment in those states, it’s very possible that good portions of the top debtors were themselves struggling.

Child support enforcement means that any reported wages or those that the government knows about are taken almost immediately after a man or woman begins a new job. You cannot get a tax return or a passport if you are behind in child support. There are men and women in their 40’s and 50’s paying child support for children who are now grown. And in most of those cases, mothers deserve to be repaid for the care and feeding of a child they raised alone. But for parents who can’t pay, child support becomes a never-ending cycle that at the end of the day doesn’t resolve the very problem it attempts to eradicate – that of providing material support for minor children.

The issues of child support, parental irresponsibility and protection of children are not going anywhere. Given the personal nature of the decision-making involved in having sex and producing children, there are no easy solutions. But until we make it easier for men and women to fulfill their financial obligations and the court system is more discerning about the kinds of penalties they apply to the mothers and fathers who struggling to do their best, we will continue to watch children suffer who are caught up in the middle. No easy solutions mean no easy conclusions should be drawn about those who find themselves behind in payments.

For Pedro Quezada and his children, there is a happy ending. If he’s able to manage the money wisely, finances should likely not be a problem for him and his family for some time to come. For the other Americans facing child support payments and for those children who need the money, the outcome is much less bright.

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