Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Child Support needs to be reformed…

December 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Fatherhood, News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( I was on 1380 WAOK in Atlanta for an interesting interview this morning.  The conversation revolved around child support payments and the “Financial Abortions” concept that my Senior Editor, Kirsten West-Savali, brought to my attention just a couple of months ago.  The conversation expanded to child support in general, and I can say that I am clearly concerned about deadbeat parents who choose not to support their kids.  I don’t care if he’s buying diapers and visiting your child every weekend; he should also be using a chunk of his paycheck to help you pay the bills related to taking care of that child.

But the child support system is in serious need of reform.  In Atlanta over the holiday weekend, there were hundreds of parents sent to jail for non-payment of child support.  While I don’t entirely oppose the idea of sending the law after parents who don’t pay, I’m not quite sure how putting parents in jail is going to help the child.  Also, the law is quick to lock a man up for non-payment of child support, but they are not so interested in using their resources to help that father spend time with his kids.

I am an 18-year veteran of the child support system, and I’ve also taken responsibility for children who’ve been financially abandoned by their dads.  Additionally, my own biological father never paid a penny in child support to my knowledge, so I was also a victim of a dead beat dad as well.  So, I  understand the frustrations of losing parental rights, and I also understand why dead beat dads need to be dealt with.   The issue is a complex one,  but one thing that is abundantly clear is that the child support system, in its current form, is more likely to destroy a family than to sustain it.

Here are some things that need to be changed about the child support system:

1) Greater accountability on where the money is spent:  There is nothing more frustrating for a non-custodial parent than to pay hundreds (or even thousands) in child support, only to see that their child isn’t getting access to the money.  I know this reality from experience, and I’ve also heard from countless dads (and moms) who’ve taken care of their responsibilities, only to have their child calling to request money for things they can’t afford.

Money paid in child support should be tracked in some way, perhaps with a debit card to record expenses or some other form of verification.  A responsible parent is not paying child support for anyone to get their nails done.   At the same time, custodial parents should be allowed to submit a budget showing the magnitude of household expenses.  This is a clear reminder to the man paying $200 per month that this amount means almost nothing to a household that faces thousands of dollars per month in expenses – so no, your child isn’t going to have the entire check spent on new Air Jordans if his mother is trying to pay the light bill.

2) Solutions that strengthen families instead of punishing them:  Jail should be part of the accountability process, I truly believe that. But jail should not be a catchall solution for every problem.  Putting a parent in jail only helps the child if this punishment is supplemented with other methods to ensure that the relationship between father and child is strengthened as a result.  If the father wants nothing to do with the child, that’s one thing, but if the father somehow feels that his parental rights have been trampled and stolen from him, then something should be done to secure visitation or even partial custody as a result of paying child support on time.

In far too many cases, one parent chooses to hijack the child-rearing process, micromanaging everything the other parent does (“I don’t want my child in the car with your girlfriend, but you can’t say a thing about my boyfriend driving him around”).   It took two people to make the baby, so two people have the right to raise it.

Finally, garnishments and other solutions should be considered long before incarceration, and parents who are brought in by the police should be given an option to come up with a payment solution before being put in jail.   The point is that locking a man up punishes both the children in his home and the children outside his home, so we must think carefully before indulging the temptations of the “incarceration nation” that America has become.  Jail should be a last resort, and should also be part of a broader process to “encourage” men to become better dads.

3) Father’s rights should be laid on the table for discussion:  I’ll never forget when I asked the mean woman at the child support office what I could do about the fact that I wasn’t able to see my child on a regular basis.  Her response?  “If you don’t pay, you can be sent to jail.  But there’s nothing we can do about helping you to see your daughter.”  Sometimes, parents who try to do the right thing are punished more than those who evade the system.  Also, when a family struggles, we must grow beyond simply assuming that the man is always at fault – it usually takes two people to destroy a family, but in many black relationships, we are likely to hear just one side of the story.

In medicine, there is a “Patient’s Bill of Rights.”  In child support court, there should be a “Parent’s Bill of Rights.”  These rights should include the opportunity to spend time with your child, the right to representation to secure your parental rights, the right to accountability on where your money is spent, and maybe even the right to partial custody if you can’t afford to make child support payments.

The system should be modified to go after deadbeat parents with greater ferocity in order to protect children and responsible mothers.  But it should also protect ethical, hard-working dads from being harmed by situations in which child custody is being used as a weapon of mass destruction.  We learned over 200 years ago that there should not be taxation without representation.  But as it stands, some parents are being hit hard financially every single month and are only rewarded by a loss of dignity, parental alienation and the stigma of being called a deadbeat just because you don’t live with your child.  It’s time to start telling every side of the story.

Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. For more information, please visit


4 Responses to “Child Support needs to be reformed…”
  1. cincopation says:

    I’m so glad I figured out the game BEFORE it got played on me. I really feel for men that get caught up in a system clearly designed to financially ruin him.

    I am all for equality in parenting. Ending lifetime alimony, child support reform, abolishment of no-fault laws, and establishing mandatory joint custody (unless there is proven child abuse), are all issues that need to be on the table in 2012.

    I feel sooner than later, women will feel the pain. More women than men are working under the age of 30 and they will be served with child support documents one day soon. Then, maybe they’ll understand our pain.

  2. Thank you for a great article that exposes some of the problems of not just the child support issue but the larger problems with family courts in general.

    For example, many of today’s so-called “deadbeats” were yesterday’s supportive parents who paid their child support proudly and on time. However, a job loss, illness, or other unforseen event inhibited their ability to keep current with the full child support amount. This individual then attempts to go back to court to get his or her child support modified to reflect his or her new financial reality. Weeks pass before he or she can get a court date. If the former spouse objects, more weeks pass while both parties exhange financial information. If needed, hearings are scheduled based on the court’s and the attorney’s convenience — usually another few weeks out. And all the while the parent’s child support debt piles up with interest and penalties. Even if the judge issues a ruling for modification, the modification is never retroactive. The parent is now so far in arrears — and usually still without a job plus new legal fees — that there is no way he or she can get current in support in a time that is acceptable to the other party, the court and the child support enforcement agencies.

    Parental alienation is another related, and huge, issues in these cases. The same judge who will throw a parent in jail for not paying support will not impose consequences on an alienating parent for disobeying the court’s orders that give both parents’ the right to have normal, healthy relationships with their children.

    Our family court and child support systems are old, antiquated and in need of a major overhaul. Sadly, the people in the best position to address the issues — the judges,lawyers and professionals working in the system — are the least motivated to change a system the is comfortable and profitable.


    mike jeffries
    Author, A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation

  3. Oscar says:

    Where Im from there is no welfare! No free ride. Once you get to the high class speed bump of the UnIted States everyones pins the Father like if he’s the fall guy & scape goat for your coffee table conversation. Knowing that if you had enough “cajones” you would get up and wouldn’t shaft your children with useless politics and grief of having nothing better to do than lie about how much it costs to rear a child ahahah just because its a fact that I have a child doesn’t justify you or a government to place a ticket on Obama’s ballot box for fanfare. Look what we did for your child! Remember you only think you have the best interest of a child but doesn’t mean you can deliver ( less of you ) and failed accounting. This is to you U.S. Citizens that claim to “work,” create pretentious societies that hold Ph.D.s and pollute, clean up your mess & learn how to count.

  4. My2cents says:

    It is interesting that there is an undercurrent theme in your article, but you aren’t connecting the dots. Much of what you are talking about in this post is about parental alienation tactics, not child support.

    On point 1, you said, “I know this reality from experience, and I’ve also heard from countless dads (and moms) who’ve taken care of their responsibilities, only to have their child calling to request money for things they can’t afford.”

    Tracking how the parent spends the money isn’t going to change this behavior. The alienating parent is having the child ask for additional money to reduce the respect of that parent in the child’s eyes. It’s a no win situation for the targeted parent because what ever they choose to do (give the money or not) doesn’t matter. The child is getting the message that the targeted parent isn’t doing enough, paying enough or caring enough.

    In point 2 you said, “… one parent chooses to hijack the child-rearing process, micromanaging everything the other parent does …” This again is an alienation tactic. Micromanaging the other parent undermines the child’s perception that the target is a capable parent.

    In point 3 you said, “Also, when a family struggles, we must grow beyond simply assuming that the man is always at fault – it usually takes two people to destroy a family, but in many black relationships, we are likely to hear just one side of the story.” Black or otherwise, sometimes it only takes one to destroy a relationship, and, sometimes it is the woman who does it and uses the children as pawns to punish the fathers for leaving, even though the women brought it on themselves to begin with.

    We, as a society in general, have to adopt a mindset that the starting point is 50/50 shared legal and physical custody. Events may change that over a course of time, but gender alone should not be the deciding factor. We should adopt a zero tolerance on alienation tactics that put the children’s minds, hearts and souls on the line and force them to choose one parent over another.

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