Sun-Times Columnist Uninformed about Child Support System

August 29, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This article
 begins with this sentence (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/27/18):

It boggles my mind that last year in Illinois, parents owed almost $900 million in child support.

Here’s what boggles my mind: experienced writers who choose to write about subjects about which they know little.  Such a writer is Mary Mitchell, author of the linked-to piece.  Not only does she know almost nothing about child support, she’s not interested in learning.  If she were, she’d probably have done certain obvious things to educate herself. 

My crazy guess is that she has a computer and access to the Internet.  With those two handy things, she could have checked out authoritative sources regarding child support and learned some very interesting facts.  But she didn’t, and, having read her article, I think I know why.  I think she’s more interested in denigrating fathers and in recruiting her readers to the anti-father cause than in educating them about the facts of child support.

I say this because she lets us know about several non-custodial parents who are way behind on child support.  Indeed, they’re so far behind and so clearly have the money to pay that they almost certainly deserve the moniker “deadbeat.”  And of course, they’re all fathers.  So Step One on Mitchell’s ignorance agenda was to stay carefully away from acknowledging that non-custodial mothers are in fact less likely to pay what they owe than are their male counterparts.  That information is about a minute and a few mouse clicks away on the website for the U.S. Census Bureau, but Mitchell never got around to going there.

And while Illinois officials boast that to date it has collected more than $2 million from deadbeat dads, that’s just a drop in the bucket when compared to what children are owed.

Right, and does Mitchell let on about why that is?  Does she even know?  Did she take five minutes out of her busy day to find out?  No, no and no.  For her, outrage is sufficient unto the evils of the day.  Information?  No.  Indignation?  She’s got that in spades.

Of course had she done a bit of study on the site for the Office of Child Support Enforcement, she’d have learned that there are many reasons why huge amounts of child support haven’t been paid and never will be.  For example, child support is routinely set at levels non-custodial parents can’t pay.  Also, the system makes it all but impossible to obtain a downward modification. Interest on child support debts has been charged in the past at usurious rates of as high as 12% per annum.  Those rates are of course reflected in the figures on unpaid support, and rates today are still at junk-bond levels.

Then of course there’s the fact that 63% of those who are behind earn less than $10,000 per year.  So Mitchell’s righteous wrath is directed at the poorest of the poor, whether she knows it or not.  Nice.

Additionally, child support obligations automatically become judgments, and a deadbeat’s driving privileges can be suspended when child support is more than 90 days past due.

But enforcing these laws takes legal representation and a lot of persistence.

In Illinois, the minimum amount of child support for two children is 28 percent.

But for many custodial parents, when they factor in the time they have to take off work to go to court, legal fees, and child care costs, pursuing a deadbeat hardly seems worth it.

Right again, but in all my reading on child support, I’ve never seen anyone have the audacity to suggest that the state insufficiently suspends driver’s licenses for failure to pay.  Everyone else on the planet, including the OCSE, now understands that doing so makes the situation worse not better, that a dad without a license to drive becomes hamstrung in the task of getting a keeping a paying job.  Not Mitchell.  She’s so incurious the obvious simply never occurs to her.

And what’s this about the hardship on custodial mothers in using the legal system to help get the money they’re owed?  Did Mitchell contact the Illinois Office of the Attorney General?  Silly me, of course she didn’t.  Had she done so, or indeed had she read any of the reams of information on child support enforcement, she’d know that custodial parents have the long, strong arm of the state on their side while non-custodial ones have to fend for themselves.  The U.S. government spends a whopping $5 billion per year on child support enforcement nationwide and zero to help payers.  Mitchell hasn’t a clue.

But the ignorance just keeps on coming:

Court-ordered child support isn’t about providing for an ex-partner’s lifestyle.

It is about providing children with the same level of financial support they would have had, had their parents stayed together.

I’ll try to keep this simple for Mitchell.  If the goal of child support is to maintain the child’s lifestyle the same as if there’d never been a divorce, it’s to maintain the custodial parent’s lifestyle as well.  It can’t be otherwise, so in fact, child support is very much about providing for an ex-partner’s lifestyle.

Needless to say, Mitchell never stops to ask herself or anyone else why that should be the goal of child support.  After all, it costs less to make ends meet when two parents live together with their children than when they live apart.  This is not a difficult concept.

So why should the system pretend that nothing financial should change when parents split up?  By engaging in that pretense, we’re lying to children.  We’re telling them that divorce changes nothing monetarily when we know that’s not true.  Are children really so fragile and so incapable that they can’t understand that Mommy and Daddy have split up and they’re going to have to tighten their belts a little?  Of course not, but the child support system isn’t having it.

Sun-Times readers deserve better than this.  Our child support system is deeply flawed and in desperate need of radical reform.  But Mitchell’s article is the exact opposite of what we need to help bring about that change.

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