Expert Says Child Support Poll Results Show “Crack” in Court System

March 4, 2009 at 10:37 pm 1 comment

By Michele Bush Kimball, Ph.D.

A recent poll shows that custodial parents are not receiving their child support payments.

Almost half of the poll respondents, 43 percent, said they are not receiving one dime of court-ordered child support payments. The poll, conducted by GFK Roper and commissioned by Divorce360.com, further illuminated the discrepancy
– just 25 percent of custodial parents are receiving their payments. Of the rest,
17 percent, are getting some of the payments, but not getting all they are due, 6
percent are fighting to get child support.

The independent polling agency spoke by phone with more than 1,500 people.
The margin of error for the study is plus or minus 2.6 percent.

Part of the issue is that noncustodial parents, who are not living full-time with
their children, don’t like paying child support, according to Brette McWhorter
Sember a former family law attorney and author of several books about divorce,
including “The Divorce Organizer & Planner,” and “Child Custody, Visitation and
Support in New York.” She said she thinks noncustodial parents don’t see how
the money they pay goes directly to the care of their children. “I believe child
support is essential, but from the point of view of the person paying it, it seems
as if it benefits the other parent more than the child,” Sember said. Those who
are not receiving the child support should be prepared to ask the court for help
getting the money, Sembler said. “You need to become familiar with the court
system and learn how to use it,” Sember said. “You need to get the child support
paid through the state enforcement agency when possible so that they can make
sure it is paid.”

Sember said the discrepancy between what’s ordered by the court and what is
actually received can be attributed to many factors, from resentment about
paying at all to frustration that the custodial parent is not using the money in the
way the noncustodial parents wants it to be used.

NONPAYMENT AS EXCEPTION?
Sari M. Friedman, the general counsel of a New York  Fathers Rights Association, said the poll results are not indicative of what she sees. Friedman said most noncustodial parents are paying to child support. If they are not, Friedman said, it could be because they do not have a job or an income that the state can garnish for child support. Also,
some circumstances make it difficult for the noncustodial parent to pay.

Perhaps the noncustodial parent had a higher income when the divorce decree
was signed and can no longer make the payments. Sometimes, Friedman said, if
the noncustodial parent owns a business, the state can’t see all of the income
earned, and the amount ordered is inaccurate. “People are always exaggerating
their side. And sometimes the truth may fall somewhere,” Friedman said. “It is up
for the judge to believe someone and decide what to order.”

There are many possible scenarios that force a noncustodial parent into the trap
of not making child support payments, and once it starts, it may become an
endless cycle, she said. “And then it becomes like a rat on a wheel, and the
arrears add up,” Friedman said.

Jeffrey Leving, a Chicago attorney who specializes in representing fathers in
custody cases, believes most noncustodial parents pay their child support.
Leving is the author of two books, “Fathers’ Rights,” and “Divorce Wars.” He also
co-authored the Illinois Joint Custody Law, and he gave testimony before both
branches of the Illinois Legislature on Joint Custody, Grandparent’s Visitation and
Child Support Accountability bills.

He cautions that while nonpayment exists, it is also not solely a women’s issue.
“Basically what I see is that custodial parents, whether they are mothers or
fathers, both have issues with nonpayment of support,” Leving said.
“Nonpayment of support is not gender-specific.”

Leving said he thinks some parents don’t pay child support because they tie their
payments to the amount of visitation they are getting. Though support and
custody are separate entities, he said it is hard for some people to look at them
that way. “One parent uses the children as tools to negotiate and tools for
revenge, and the other parent uses his income,” Leving said. “Even parents who
love their children do this, and they don’t realize it. They are just so caught up in
the divorce.”

He said that parents who have more contact with their children are more likely to
pay support. However, the process of divorce becomes so adversarial, that is
difficult to negotiate. “To correct these problems, you really have to use honey
before vinegar,” Leving said. “And if you use honey first, you won’t have to get to
the vinegar.”

And if the honey and vinegar don’t work, “They better get a very skilled attorney,”
Leving said. He said custodial parents must find an attorney trained in marital
law who is willing to be dogged and creative because it is very difficult to get a
noncustodial parent’s financial information. “It’s not easy to collect support if the
noncustodial parent is not going to pay and instead fight you,” Leving said.

GETTING ADEQUATE CHILD SUPPORT
The best case child support scenario includes flexibility in the original divorce
decree, said Colette Frey-Bitzas, a certified financial planner from Financial
Planners for Women. In her practice, she often advises clients to make room in
child support payments for their children’s future needs. At first, her clients focus
on their spouses’ current salaries and what percentage they need.
“Unfortunately, there is more to picture,” Frey-Bitzas said.

As children grow, the cost of clothing increases, they may participate in
expensive school activities, they may need dental work or more complicated
medical care and they may attend college and need help with tuition. “Try to be
as detailed as possible and try to leave the door open for things you have not
thought of,” Frey-Bitzas said.

Generally, it is the financial negotiations that tie up the divorce process, Frey-
Bitzas said. “The custodial issue is generally one of the primary focus of
attorneys. ‘Let’s make sure the children are settled,’” Frey-Bitzas said. “It’s the
financial issue that carries on in court.”
She said her clients are usually surprised by the financial negotiations. She
attributes it to the fact that people are still reeling from the divorce. “They are
emotionally crippled people who need to think clearly. I find initially people
underestimate what is going to happen,” Frey-Bitzas said. “They fail to recognize
that the children are going to get older, and there are going to be additional
expenses.”
When custodial parents are not receiving the support they need, they must go
back to the court system. It may be financially difficult, Frey-Bitzas said, because
they will need an attorney and will pay more legal fees. But it may be beneficial to
have the court reevaluate the situation. “If financial circumstance changes, you
can go back to the court and have it revisited, and the income can be adjusted,
be it upward or downward,” Frey-Bitzas said.

She said she is not surprised at the number of people who reported that they are
not receiving child support. She said it is common for a noncustodial parent to
disregard the support order. “The piece of paper is worth nothing unless it is
followed through on,” Frey-Bitzas said. “I think there is a big crack in the system.’

Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization
in media law. She has spent almost 15 years in the field of journalism, and she
teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national
research award for her work. She can be reached at Michele@MicheleKimball.com.

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Entry filed under: Child Support, Divorce Wars, Fathers' Rights. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. thesystemstinks  |  March 16, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    There is much more than a crack, there is a hole somewhere. I fall in line with those who don’t receive the child support. My case has gone to total system failure. Read about it at http://itsourrealitymagazine.com/systemstinks.htm

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