Three Fathers & Families supporters along with myself appeared in several hundred newspapers Thursday in a national Associated Press article detailing the problems faced by child support obligors in the recession. The article is More parents seek child-support reduction and it appeared in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, MSNBC.com, ABCNews.com, Forbes, Business Week, Newsday,
the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo, AOL, and over 300 others. According to AP reporter Megan K. Scott:
With the economic downturn hitting men harder than women – 9.8 versus 7.5 percent unemployment – and men comprising most noncustodial parents, many dads are finding themselves struggling to make child support payments that were based on incomes they no longer earn.
The three Fathers & Families supporters in the article are Jeremy Lavine (whose photo the AP used), David Vandenberg, who is featured in the story’s opening paragraph, and Samantha Land, a divorced mother who shares custody with Shaun Land, another longtime supporter. Thanks to all of you who answered our July 28 Media Alert. This article provides an excellent opportunity for you to bring get your letters discussing your (or others’) problems with the child support system into major newspapers. We suggest you write Letters to the Editor of some of the largest publications which printed the AP story by using the information below. We suggest you place “More parents seek child-support reduction” in the subject line.
1) Write the Washington Post by clicking on firstname.lastname@example.org. 2) Write the Chicago Tribune by clicking on email@example.com 3) Write Forbes by clicking on firstname.lastname@example.org 4) Write Newsday by clicking on email@example.com 5) Write the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by clicking on firstname.lastname@example.org 6) Write the Seattle Times by clicking on email@example.com 7) Write the San Francisco Chronicle by clicking on firstname.lastname@example.org 8) Write the Baltimore Sun by clicking on email@example.com 9) Write the Philadelphia Inquirer by clicking on firstname.lastname@example.org 10) Write the Orlando Sentinel by clicking on email@example.com.
Also, check your local paper and its website for the article, and write a Letter to the Editor. Please keep your letters short (200 words), polite, and to the point. The AP piece details Lavine’s case, which is a textbook example of what is wrong with the current child support system. Lavine is being turned into a “deadbeat dad” and possibly becoming criminalized, yet his kids live with him 50% of the time. Lavine worked in the Real Estate industry and had a $1,100 a month child support obligation based on a $4,500 a month income. Like so many in the Real Estate industry, his income evaporated, and now he’s earning about $1,500 a month repairing jet skis. Yet the Florida Department of Children and Families told him his industry was going to bounce back and refused to give him a modification. So instead of protecting his children–who are currently in a functional, supportive shared custody arrangement–the state is instead going to ruin one of these children’s parents. Who benefits from this? One of the judges quoted in the article illustrates the problem:
Family court judge Patricia Macias of El Paso, Texas, said she considers whether the parent is unemployed or underemployed by choice, is actively seeking another job and can retain a job commensurate with their education and skills. Perhaps the person has assets that can be liquidated, she said. “I believe that family court judges as a general rule are very empathetic to the economic situation,” said Macias, immediate past president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. “But our primary focus is what the kids need. So that it’s not good enough to say, `Judge, you understand. We’re in hard economic times.’ We all understand but what extra effort are you making now?”
There are several problems with this:
1) It is true that there are fathers who will falsely plead poverty at child support hearings, or conceal income by working under the table, etc. (I would add that the harsh financial demands put on fathers unwittingly encourage this sort of behavior). However, judges habitually err on the side of the custodial parent. Macias, a well-known and influential jurist, seems to think that dads whose incomes have dropped simply aren’t trying hard enough–this in the worst economic recession in modern times. It’s hard to ascribe Macias’ attitude to anything other than gender bias. 2) Demanding that the noncustodial parent “liquidate assets” to pay is wrong–child support is supposed to be based on a person’s income. Demanding that they pay using assets they acquired in previous times while they were at the same time paying their child support is in some ways asking them to double pay. Most fathers do try to help their children as much as they can financially when their income has dropped, and also volunteer to provide child care and other non-monetary benefits to their kids. 3) Macias says that in refusing to adjust child support orders, judges’ “primary focus is what the kids need.” What kids need are fathers who are allowed to remain a meaningful part of their lives–driving the fathers to desperation and jail is tremendously harmful to children, vastly more than the harm created by adjusting child support orders. 4) Fathers & Families’ position is not that fathers who suffer a drop in income should not pay any child support–our position is that their child support should be based on their income. Courts should quickly and accurately adjust obligors’ child support levels when their incomes drop.