“‘Everybody is struggling, but someone who has a child-support order is going to be put in jail because they can”t pay their debts,’ he says. ‘We”re talking about ways to work out their mortgage and credit card debt, but non-custodial parents are the only ones whose debts will put them in jail.”
NPR station WBUR in Boston did a nice piece this week on the problems faced by noncustodial fathers who lose their jobs in the recession but cannot get courts to modify their child support downward. Fathers & Families’ member Jim Feeney and Fathers & Families founder Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S. are quoted and featured.
In Out Of Work, Parents Struggle To Keep Up On Child Support, NPR reporter Monica Brady-Myerov writes:
[A]sking the court to change the child support obligation because you lost your job isn”t always enough. Longtime family law attorney B.J. Krintzman of Newton says it”s a slow moving system that hasn”t changed with the fast decline in the economy.
“There”s a disinclination by the courts to give an instantaneous reduction in child support,’ Krintzman said. “Because, for instance, of a job loss — because you don”t know if the person is going to be reemployed within a few weeks or something.’
But with a state unemployment rate of 7.8 percent, other lawyers say more judges are granting temporary relief immediately, because they know it”s unlikely someone will get a new job quickly. Another complication is that some custodial parents who”ve lost their jobs are also asking the courts to increase the amount they receive…
Typically, it takes six months from the time a non-custodial parent petitions the court to pay less because of a job loss to when the court makes a decision.
“And during those couple of months you can be going broke in a hurry,’ says Ned Holstein, president of Fathers and Families, a group that represents the majority of non-custodial parents: dads.
“Then when you get the hearing, typically the family court judges will not give you relief in the first hearing,’ Holstein said. “They say, ‘Well, how do we know this is not going to be long standing? You could get a job next week. You have assets you can pay it out of your assets. And so I”ll see you again in three more months.”‘
And that”s exactly what happened to Jim Feeney, who lives on Cape Cod. He”s a father of four who was married 19 years and has been has been divorced for five. He”s required to pay $800 a week in child support and 65 percent of college expenses for two of his children. In January he lost his $83,000-a-year job in business development.
“First I filed for unemployment,’ Feeney recalled. “I filed for a complaint for modification from the court. And I filed for transitional assistance, welfare and food stamps. Because I had no income, I had no savings.’
Feeney had to wait two and a half months for a hearing. Then the judge denied his request to temporarily lower his child support payments and scheduled a trial for July. After the hearing, Feeney spoke about his case at a restaurant across the street from the Bristol County Probate Courthouse in New Bedford.
“They charge penalties, interest — there are penalties to the state. There”s penalties that go to my ex-wife. There”s interest that goes to the state, there”s interest that goes to my ex-wife’…
When judges don”t give relief to non-custodial parents who are unemployed, it puts fathers in legal jeopardy, says Ned Holstein.
“Everybody is struggling, but someone who has a child-support order is going to be put in jail because they can”t pay their debts,’ he says. “We”re talking about ways to work out their mortgage and credit card debt, but non-custodial parents are the only ones whose debts will put them in jail.’
This is the second excellent piece Monica Brady-Myerov has done on fathers’ issues in recent months—please send her a complimentary email by clicking here.
Monica Brady-Myerov’s previous piece was Lawsuit Says Child Support Guidelines ‘Unfair’ (WBUR, 3/16/09) and featured Holstein and two Fathers & Families members, Andrew Pelser and Simon Peffers.