There’s a lot to this article (Good Men Project, 7/28/18). Much of the anguish fathers feel on losing huge swaths of time with their children following divorce comes through loudly and clearly. Those raw emotions are there in every line.
But there’s more, and that’s what I want to focus on.
The writer, John McElhenney first learned that his wife was leaving him after she’d already consulted a lawyer. Needless to say, things didn’t go well for John.
In my case, I lost the house; I lost 70% of the time with my kids; I was given a $1,350 a month child support payment (payment doesn’t vary or pause if I’m employed or not.); I was given the non-custodial parent role (which doesn’t mean much until you get behind, for any reason, on your child support payments; and I had to health insurance for the kids (job or no job).
So, based on his earnings when he was earning, McElhenney was saddled with a child support bill he could barely pay when employed but that was out of the question when he wasn’t. Of course the court didn’t care what he actually earned, only what he could earn. As night follows day, McElhenney found himself in arrears.
If the dad cannot make the scheduled payments all kinds of hell kick in. In my case, their mom sent her complaint to the state of Texas and the Attorney General’s office began to harass and condemn me. Here’s what that looks like. About 2 – 3 times a year, they freeze my bank accounts. I call them. They ask how much money is in the accounts. (As if they don’t know.) Then they take 50% of everything I have. And in the course of the next few days, my banks will unfreeze the rest of the money. Effectively, I am left with zero dollars. While the shakedown is taking place, I have no money. Rent and car payments bounce. Even insurance policies go into jeopardy. This is how it is.
Does that make sense? Does it make sense for the child to see her father barely clinging to the ragged edge of solvency? When the child is with him does it make sense that he has no money with which to feed her, care for her, take her to a movie, etc.? Does it make sense that, if she needs medical care he doesn’t have the money to provide it? Does that lift him up in her eyes? In his?
When my employment got wonky for a few months, she didn’t think about the consequences on my life. She merely filed with the AG and expected to be paid on time. So, this happened while I was renegotiating my mortgage with Wells Fargo. And she knew this was happening. She filed anyway. I lost my refi options with Wells Fargo and had to sell my house days before foreclosure.
We may as well call that “weaponizing” child support. The custodial parent has the immense power of the state at her beck and call. The Attorney General’s Office will swing into action against a parent in arrears on support any time it’s asked. And if the custodial parent chooses to make that request at just the time when the AG’s action will mean the loss of her ex’s abode, well so be it. She has the power and that’s how she chose to use it.
Was McElhenney’s loss of his house good for the child? No, but the “best interests of the child” standard apparently is a mantra to be intoned by the judge when issuing orders, not for what comes later, not for the results of those orders.
Could I ever imagine doing something so destructive to her? With the potential (the certainty) of hurting my kids? No. I still can’t imagine it.
Did it hurt my kids when their dad lost his house and had to move in with his mother? Did it bring me down in their eyes as a success when I lost everything? Did my son have a harder time bragging about me and my entrepreneurial spirit? Did my ex-wife care?
I suppose caring is for chumps. It’s certainly nothing a person wielding power need concern themselves about. ‘Twas ever thus. Parenthetically, that is why we no longer allow monarchs to rule us. History teaches much and one of its indelible lessons is that when we give power to anyone, that person may abuse it. He/she may not, but the risk is inherently there.
Parents in family courts re-teach the lesson daily. McElhenney’s wife did.
Despite what we hear, child support law has little to do with supporting children. If it did, our child support calculations would be entirely different from what they are. They’d recognize the fact that, when the child is with the non-custodial parent, he bears some of the expense of care. They’d also dispense with imputed income and base orders on what the parent actually earns. They’d also make pursuing downward modifications based on changed circumstances far easier and less expensive than is the current practice. If a man loses his job, he can’t pay support, but he also can’t afford to go to court to get his payments lowered. That creates arrears. And of course interests on arrears should be far less than the current going rate that can be as high as 6% per annum.
I could go on and on about how child support law needs to change, but perhaps the most important way is that non-custodial parents need to be able to avail themselves of the same state power that custodial parents enjoy. They need to be able to call a state-paid lawyer to enforce their visitation rights, but they can’t. The federal government budgets billions for child support enforcement, but barely anything for visitation enforcement.
The great irony of that is that, as Sanford Braver showed 20 years ago, fathers who get to see their kids without interference or harassment are far more likely to pay what they owe than are other dads. So enforcing visitation would result in greater collections of child support. Given that, you’d think the feds would throw their full weight behind visitation enforcement, but of course they don’t.