Fox Has Stepped into Big Hornet’s Nest

Fox Television may have stepped into a very big hornet’s nest when it purchased a pilot episode of “Bad Dads.’ The concept of this show is a cross between “Dog the Bounty Hunter’ and “America”s Most Wanted,’ in which a private child support collector tracks down and confronts non-custodial dads who allegedly owe back child support.

Not only is this proposed show hated by non-custodial parents (see below), but Fox”s choice of a hero — a private child support collection agency — is hated by many of the very people it allegedly serves.

This industry is in such disrepute that the state of Florida has just sued one of the leading companies in the field.

It is hard to see how Fox can continue with its plan in the face of our massive protest campaign plus the longstanding hostility of the mainstream child support community to these companies.

Vicki Turetsky is Director of Family Policy for the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a Washington organization that lobbies for low-income families and supports more effective policies for collecting child support. But she has no admiration for private child support collection companies, which have a history of harassing custodial and non-custodial parents alike while diverting a whopping 30% to 40% of child support collections to their own bank accounts.

In September, 2004, she wrote “Private child support collection companies often fail to deliver any genuine services. Instead, they strip income from low and moderate-income families that could have been spent on housing, childcare, clothing and school expenses, or saved for their children”s education, and trap them in perpetual contracts. These companies exploit the child support indebtedness of low and moderate-income non-custodial parents through the use of predatory and abusive tactics that increase their debt levels and often destroy their credit histories.’

She also wrote, “CLASP has reviewed about 400 state consumer complaints and lawsuits filed by mothers, fathers, grandparents, employers, and courts around the county against some of the largest private child support collection companies. The complaints routinely allege that companies make money in four illegitimate ways: (1) promising help with back support, but instead pocketing a fee from ongoing monthly support; (2) taking a cut of support collected by state child support agencies; (3) demanding payments from grandparents; and (4) coercing payments from non-custodial parents that are not owed or authorized by state law.’

“The complaints reflect an offensive and disturbing picture of deceptive advertising, misleading contracts, fee gouging, harassment and abuse, posing as the government, dunning grandparents, inflating and fabricating debts, undermining creditworthiness, and abusing legal process.’

Fox should have known this, since Fox 7 in Miami reported on just these abuses on February 28, 2003. 

The abuses of this industry are so bad that Virginia sued one of the leading companies three months ago, charging that:

• “Supportkids, Inc. sends wage-withholding notices to employers of noncustodial parents. In these documents, the company refers to itself as “Child Support Enforcement,’ a name easily confused with Virginia”s “Division of Child Support Enforcement.’

• “Supportkids, Inc. also directs, unlawfully, the employer to send payments directly to the company”s office in Texas, rather than to Virginia”s DCSE.’

• “It then charges the custodial parent a 34% fee before forwarding the remainder of the payment to the custodial parent, regardless of whether it has undertaken any work on behalf of the parent to collect such payments.’

Several years ago, this industry tried to take advantage of the Bush administration”s admiration for privatizing government and introduced legislation in Congress that would have vastly increased their powers of collection. The legislation was adamantly opposed by:

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
National Women”s Law Center
Children”s Defense Fund
Association for Children for Enforcement of Support
National Organization for Women (NOW)
Consumer Federation of America
Consumers Union
U.S. Public Interest Research Group
National Consumer Law Center
American Public Human Services Association
National Council of Child Support Directors (the heads of state child support collection agencies)
Eastern Regional Interstate Child Support Association
American Payroll Association

Flash-forward to the present: the protest campaign against Fox”s “Bad Dads,’ coordinated by Fathers & Families, Glenn Sacks, and ACFC, has already netted over 4,000 fax and email protests, and we”re not done yet. The outpouring of opposition reflects the passion of non-custodial parents who are tired of being demonized in the media.

Now, organizations such as those above are also likely to oppose the show. They do not want impressionable viewers to sign up for the services of such companies, who will be portrayed on the show as heroes.

Fox has stepped into a hornet’s nest. Stay tuned to this story.

As a final note, if you are a noncustodial parent, beware the tricks of these companies. Many of them have assumed names and designed stationery to make them sound and look like government agencies. If you are contacted by an agency claiming that you owe child support, verify that they are indeed a government agency, not a private company.

And beware of some of their techniques, as described by Turetsky:

“The company pursues decades-old debts barred by the state”s statute of limitations, and inflates those debts by charging tens of thousands of additional dollars as ‘interest,’ even when state law does not authorize the interest charges. The company continues to harass the parent even when non-custodial parents say they do not owe the money, and provide documentation (such as a zero-balance account statement from the state child support agency, adoption papers, or cancelled checks). Even though the company knows they do not owe the money, it continues to pursue them, and will not respond to calls or letters. The company makes no effort to verify debt, but instead tries to extort a settlement. They also may try to shake down your parents, embarrass you with your neighbors, or seize your assets.’

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