Deadbeat Dads: Does Our Enforcement System Deter or Create Them?

I know there are a lot of deadbeat dads out there. Those men who are able to pay child support but who find every possible loophole they can not to pay. The laws currently in place are intended to protect women from being left financially bereft without the means to provide for the children now that the husband is no longer the husband. I understand that there are many, many women out there who’ve taken a beating due to divorce and now live an impoverished existence because they are now responsible for handling the finances of a family without a family-size income. I also understand that there are many, many men out there who actively shirk and avoid their financial responsibilities to their children. Might I suggest that today we take a look at another divorce reality impacting many men in a very different way. Let’s talk about the man who loses everything to the ex, and then his ex, instead of letting it go, keeps coming back and demanding more. Let’s discuss the dad who can’t catch a break because the ex and the legal system assume he is a deadbeat before he’s even been proven a deadbeat.

Disclaimer Number 1: I’m going to throw some specifics out there, but these specifics are really a compilation of many different experiences shared with me by men and some women over the last five years. They don’t point to a specific person’s experience, though it might sound an awful lot like your own. I’ve noticed some real similarities in situations where men end up being treated very unfairly by a law that was supposed to fairly equalize financial matters after divorce. It isn’t just women and children who lose.

Disclaimer Number 2: Also, please note that I am not an attorney and nothing herein should be construed in any way as legal advice. The only advice I can give you is that if you are seeking a divorce or considering a divorce or having one forced on you against your will, you should seek the legal counsel of an attorney, maybe even more than one. Usually a consult is 30 minutes to an hour and the fee is fairly reasonable even if finances are tight for you. It is money well spent in my opinion. You will at least know what you’re facing, what the associated costs are, and what your rights are. A good attorney will tell you all this straight up, they’ll tell you what the law in your county says and they won’t take your entire life savings to do it. It is worth it to get the counsel up front.

Disclaimer Number 3: The basis for my thinking I can even have an opinion on this topic is that I’m a blogger. As such I can pretty much say what I want, call it my opinion and rant on about whatever. Beyond that, I can only say that I have more personal experience in the divorce courts than I would wish on anyone. I also have the experiences of others as shared with me personally over the last five years. It doesn’t make me an expert, but it provides me with the opportunity to make some observations. These observations are what I would like to share tonight since I can’t sleep and I’m up anyway.

Disclaimer Number 4: I am going to refer to men and women in some very traditional roles simply for the sake of ease in writing and discussion. For this post, I’ll refer to women as the custodial parent seeking child support and men as the non-custodial parent paying support. Though this has been my experience, I know plenty of men who are the custodial parent and women who pay the child support. I’m not trying to perpetrate any kind of gender bias here at all. It’s just that typing men and women is easier to do than type custodial and non-custodial parent. Since it is so late and since I am typing this out on my iPhone from bed, I’d like to plead lazy and refer to the different parties as defined, though I am well aware the readers’ experiences might vary. I think the issues still pertain regardless of which role or gender you are.

Now, let’s get started.

Observation 1: The divorce laws aren’t fair. They give advantage in some ways to the woman (custodial parent) and unfairly penalize the man. Here’s an example I know to be true in my own county and of counties in a neighboring state. If the woman has a problem with the amount of support she is receiving, or if she believes the man is making more than he stated in court, or if she believes (read suspects, but has no conclusive evidence) that things have improved for the man financially she can simply go down to the enforcement office, fill out a form naming any amount, and in a matter of days there is a modification in place increasing the amount of child support the guy is now required for him to pay. She doesn’t have to have any hard data or numbers. She can make them up. The modification goes through almost instantly and the guy is notified, that he can contest this. For him to contest it means he has to provide all sorts of documentation regarding his income, and the process to get the support amount modified to an accurate amount, based on his real income, could take as long as a year. All the while the support is being charged to the guy at the new rate, based only on her word.

In another instance a guy I know has been unemployed for a long time. This is a man who sent out resume after resume daily, he made calls, filled out applications and did all the follow up. He got a job, which didn’t last. The ex got wind of it and the next thing you know he’s being charged an astronomical amount of child support based on an income he never earned. It will take him a year to get that amount modified to accurately reflect his income and the modification will not be retroactive to the day he filed the modification. So he accrues child support he can’t pay based on an income he never earned just because the ex says so. He’s immediately owing back child support, placed in the category of deadbeat dad, even though he has followed all the rules, even paying extra when he could and notifying the state whenever he gets a new job. In many cases, if a man is unemployed and he falls far enough behind in his support, his driver’s license will be taken away. I have to question the effectiveness of such a practice. If a guy lives in an area where a vehicle is needed to get out and job hunt and his license is taken for non-payment of child support, haven’t we just created a deadbeat dad? How can he possibly go look for work to land a job so he can begin paying his child support. Hasn’t the system just tied the guys hands?

This isn’t fair. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be an avenue for dispute, but it seems to me there should a few more controls in place to make things a little more balanced. One party shouldn’t be able to get immediate results while the process lags, unduly, for the other. At best, nothing should change in the status quo until all documents are received and a hearing is conducted. The consequences for non-payment of support should be reasonable and should not prevent a man from finding or keeping a source of income. This is an area where I believe many men are abused by the system.

Observation 2: Many women view the divorce/support/custody arena as a fight to the death. They enter in with the goal, not merely to come out with a document that will help her survive, but, instead,to annihilate their ex. The sad thing is that the laws seem to be written to support this in some places. In one instance, a female friend of mine shared that, when she was going through divorce, her attorney informed her that she was entitled to ask for a certain amount. My friend considered the amount the attorney named but she knew it was going to be impossible for her ex to pay it. Instead, she asked her ex what he thought he could afford to pay. Her ex named a reasonable amount and that is the amount that my friend insisted her attorney place in the divorce papers. Sadly, many women, will list the highest amount possible regardless of the ability of their ex to pay and they do it knowingly.

I know that in many places the amount of support is determined by a calculator that is based on a formula which takes into account the amount of parenting time and the income of both parents. This is a good thing. Even so, there are people out there who successfully work the system to squeeze every drop of financial blood from their ex. I’m reminded of the man who reported that his ex voted him off the marital island. They were separated for five years before she finally met someone she thought would be a viable marriage partner. Once she and her new beau had a date set, she filed papers on my friend. During the five years before she finally filed, my friend jumped through all sorts of hoops, hoping to restore his family and his marriage. He went to counseling which she would not participate in, he handed over most of his paycheck keeping only a small amount; barely enough for him to rent a room in house and to make his car payment. When the divorce finally went through he agreed to sign over all of the real estate they owned together (20 acres of prime developable land, plus the 3,000 sq.ft. family home). In turn, she agreed not to touch his retirement. She’s now remarried, not hurting at all for money or income, all the kids are in school and she is highly employable as a nurse. Even working part time this woman could bring in substantial income. Instead, she refuses to work at all and goes after her ex for money. My friend informed me that his ex has just retained an attorney to go after his retirement. The vindictiveness of this act is almost laughable, because the woman has literally stripped my friend of everything and now she’s hired an attorney to go after an amount that will roughly equal her attorney fees. In fact, her attorney fees might just be more than half the retirement. On what planet does any of that even remotely make sense?

Observation 3: Not all attorneys are created equal. I mentioned that I’ve had more personal experience in divorce courts than anybody should have. In my own experience I participated in two divorces, one custody trial and numerous mediations and other disputes, not all of them my own. I’ve had the opportunity to see at least 7 or 8 different attorneys at work. I’ve formed some opinions on what makes a good attorney and what doesn’t. Again, these are merely my opinions based on my own personal experience. The biggest indicator that an attorney is going to be a decent one to work with is that they won’t tell you what you want to hear in order to get your money. I recently had reason to go speak to my attorney. She’s a wise woman, knows the law and I’d recommend her to anyone in my area. What makes her so great is that she tells you what the law says, not what she thinks she can make happen for you. Example: If I were to go in there wanting to fight a parenting time battle, she will tell me straight up if I’m wasting my time. If what I’m proposing is likely to fail in the courtroom she’ll tell me.

In another instance a friend of mine found herself enmeshed in a custody battle. Her husband was going after his ex for custody of their four children. The ex was a convicted felon and there were some serious allegations of neglect, with repeated reports to children’s services on file. My friend’s husband felt that he had a case and he went in to see an attorney which they later retained. This attorney, in their initial consult led the young couple to believe that they actually had a good chance of getting custody. This attorney, passed papers back and forth increasing costs of the case without it ever going to trial. When it finally did get to trial the attorney was not prepared and failed to present some critical evidence. As my friend was writing the check the attorney made an offhandedly comment indicating that there are attorneys who intentionally throw cases if the account isn’t paid up before the trial date. $30,000 later my friend’s husband lost his court case. They later found out that it is almost impossible to win a custody battle, and they later found out that according to the laws in their area and the way judges tend to rule, they weren’t even close. My friend would have been wise to get a second or third opinion before deciding which attorney to retain.

Divorce is never an easy thing. Unless the two adults can be adult enough, in spite of their pain, to set aside their personal vendettas and work together in the best interests of the children, the divorce courts, attorneys, judges, and enforcement agencies will be around for along time to come. I agree deadbeat dads need to be held accountable, but maybe it’s time to hold the greedy, vindictive moms accountable also. Maybe it’s time to look at the enforcement laws and ask whether they really do the job of enforcing or do they, by creating impossibilities that can never be overcome, create the very deadbeat dads they attempt to go after?

It’s something to consider.

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Posted on March 28, 2012, in Divorce and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. mindfulofchatter

    I agree on all counts. The court system seems to often favor the parent with custody above all common sense. Parents seek revenge for a failed relationship. In most cases, the children pay the price. 😦

    • I’ve often considered returning to school to pursue a law degree for just this purpose: to advocate for a more balanced playing field in divorce enforcement. Not going to happen, but I did seriously consider it at one point.

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