David E. Cook’s article Deadbroke dads: The system makes Darryl Gay pay child support. But it”s more than he can afford and his daughter doesn”t get the money. Is this how it”s supposed to work? (Sacramento News & Review, 10/11/07) is an excellent description of the way the current child support system wages a ruthless war against low-income and minority fathers.
Cook focuses on the story of Darryl Gay–a loving African-American father of modest means–and his struggle to survive in the child support system and be there for his six-year-old daughter. Cook writes:
“Six-year-old Tynea fidgeted at the dinner table, bored, counting a stack of crackers on her plate. A Warner Bros. cartoon murmured faintly from the living room of the Mack Road apartment where she was visiting her father, Darryl Gay, for the weekend.
“Tynea”s parents never married and broke up soon after she was born. Gay, 41, continued to visit his daughter almost daily, and, though there was no child-support order, contributed to her upbringing by buying diapers, clothes, formula and other necessities.
“‘I was buying my daughter whatever she needed because I was there every day,’ Gay says. ‘I knew what her needs were. I was buying what she needed.’
“But then, Gay says, Tynea”s mother moved out of town without telling him, taking his daughter and her six other children from different relationships with her. Two years and two private investigators later, Gay finally found Tynea living in Oakland with her mother. He was eager to renew his relationship with his daughter and begin contributing what he could to her upbringing.
“That”s when the welfare bureaucracy put its boot up Gay”s backside.
“After Tynea”s mother moved to Oakland, she applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, otherwise known as welfare. Because of new regulations enacted in the 1990s, she was required to name Tynea”s father to Alameda County welfare authorities. A court order was issued requiring Gay to begin providing child support and to reimburse any money paid to Tynea by the state.
“Because Gay”s whereabouts were unknown at the time, he was unaware of the order. But when he tracked down his daughter on his own accord, Alameda County slapped him with a $227-per-month child-support payment. As an in-home health aide, Gay makes $830 per month. That leaves him with just $603 to make ends meet after paying child support. None of the money he paid on his own in the past counts. But here”s the real rub: Most of the child support goes not to Tynea or her mother, but to Alameda County. Only $50 goes to Tynea.
“Welcome to welfare reform, American style.
“Thanks to a convoluted bureaucracy, flawed research and our country”s never-ending war on the poor, Gay must now choose between providing care for his daughter or obeying the law and reimbursing the state for welfare paid to Tynea”s mother over the years. He is not alone. Our national obsession with pursuing deadbeat dads is leaving many well-intentioned fathers destitute, and even homeless.
“Call them deadbroke dads…
“Unfortunately, the child-support system does not recognize the informal, undocumented assistance fathers like Gay provide their children. The only factor the system considers in measuring responsible fatherhood is the payment of formal child support. …
“Child-support orders are usually retroactive to the day the child was born, and fathers are ordered to reimburse the state for any public assistance paid to the child. A father can owe back child support, or in the jargon of the system, ‘arrearages,’ even before the court issues a formal child-support order. Private arrangements between parents are now ignored, even with notarized documents.
“Glenn Sacks, host of His Side with Glenn Sacks, says even direct financial contributions go unacknowledged.
“‘I get e-mails and letters by the hundreds from fathers who show canceled checks for child support paid directly to the mother,’ Sacks recounts, ‘and the state says, “That”s a gift, and it doesn”t count.” It”s like sending him a Visa card with a $20,000 balance already on it.”