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"High-Profile 'Deadbeat Dad'
Raids Won't Fix
Child Support System
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Child Support System Badly in Need of Reform", write to the
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Newark Star Ledger
Friday, September 6, 2002
High-profile raids will not solve the child support problem. What is needed
are reforms that will make the system more rational and workable and that
will benefit both the children owed support and the fathers who owe it.
by Dianna Thompson and Glenn Sacks
Highly publicized raids, federal agents have hauled in 69 "deadbeat dads"
from 29 states over the past few weeks and are still hunting for 33 more.
The Bush administration boasts that it is sending a message to deadbeats.
However, the high-living deadbeat dad who stiffs his kids is largely a
Arizona State University researcher Sanford Braver, who over an eight-year
period conducted the largest federally funded study of divorced dads ever
done, found that unemployment was the largest factor behind nonpayment of
child support and noted that his findings were "consistent with virtually
all past studies on the topic."
According to a U.S. Government Accounting Office survey of custodial
mothers who were not receiving the support they were owed, two-thirds of
the mothers themselves admitted that their children's fathers did not pay
their child support because they were financially unable to do so.
Most "deadbeat dads" are actually dead broke, either because they have
low-wage jobs, are unemployed or are deep in arrears on unrealistic and
crushing child support obligations. According to Bruce Walker, the
Oklahoma district attorney who ran the state's child-support enforcement
program for three years and jailed hundreds of fathers for nonpayment,
these men are "seldom the mythical monsters described by politicians."
"Many times I prosecuted impoverished men," he notes. "I prosecuted one
deadbeat dad who had been hospitalized for malnutrition and another who
lived in the bed of a pickup truck."
Other "deadbeat dads" are victims of child support enforcement agency
errors, which studies have shown account for as much as a third of all
alleged arrearages in some states and counties. These errors occur in part
because the federal government funds the states' enforcement efforts based
on how much money in child support they collect, thus strongly encouraging
states to grab and hold every dollar they can, even if it is collected in error.
Another problem is that, according to Elaine Sorensen of the Urban
Institute, less than 5 percent of fathers who lose their jobs or become
disabled are able to get downward modifications in their child support. In
such cases, arrearages mount quickly, as do interest (10 percent or more
in many states) and penalties. However, judges cannot remedy these
injustices because the federal Bradley amendment bars them from
retroactively forgiving child support arrearages.
Other men become "deadbeats" because they have been cut off from their
children. Studies show that access and visitation denial has reached
epidemic levels, and many fathers fail to pay their child support in part
because they are spending thousands of dollars in legal fees just trying
to remain a part of their children's lives. Braver's research and U.S.
census data clearly indicate that the more access fathers have to their
children, the better their payment records.
In addition, some men are not aware of their children's whereabouts or
even that they have children until they are hit with child support orders.
These men find themselves instantly tens of thousands of dollars in
arrears - to pay for children to whom they were never allowed to be
High-profile raids will not solve the child support problem. What is
needed are reforms that will make the system more rational and workable
and that will benefit both the children owed support and the fathers who
For one, states need to make it easier for fathers who lose their jobs or
become disabled to get downward modifications. In addition, the Bradley
amendment must be modified or repealed.
Also, the federal government must switch from funding states' child
support efforts based on collections to funding them by block grants.
These block grants should be tied to timely compliance evaluations that
include stiff penalties for false collections and billing errors.
Most important, family courts must take access and visitation interference
as seriously as they take failure to pay child support and allow men to be
a meaningful part of the lives of the children they are expected to make
sacrifices to support.
There are fathers who stiff their children. Yet sweeping conclusions about
divorced dads should not be based on the arrest of 69 alleged deadbeats in
a country where 5 million noncustodial fathers have child support
obligations. Most divorced fathers do right by their children, often in
the face of laws, policies and courts that are stacked against them.
Using noncustodial dads as political punching bags will not help their
children. Fixing a broken child support enforcement system will.
Dianna Thompson, a founder and executive director of the American
Coalition for Fathers and Children, (www.acfc.org) she can be reached at
DThompson2232@aol.com. Glenn Sacks writes about gender issues from
the male perspective. He can be reached at Glenn@GlennSacks.com.
High-Profile 'Deadbeat Dad' Raids Won't Fix Child Support System
Badly in Need of Reform
by Sacks & Thompson -- glennsacks.com, 06 Sep 02
© 2002 NJ.com. All Rights Reserved.
Star Ledger Home: http://www.nj.com/starledger/
'Dead broke' dads / A new strategy in child support
Editorial -- Star Tribune, 26 Aug 02
The 'deadbeat dad' canard
by Sacks & Thompson -- Sacramento Bee, 01 Aug 02
Chronic Child Support Defaulters Arrested in Nationwide Sweep
HHS Press Release, 31 Jul 02
Policy Chairman's Child Support Enforcement Act to be Introduced
House Policy Committee, 15 Jul 02
Child Support Enforcement Act
THOMAS -- U.S. Congress on the Internet
[The bills are HR 5130 and S 2732, introduced 16 Jul 02.
NOTE: If a search by bill number does not work, try a
search by phrase (Act title), which will yield these two bills.]
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