Poverty Makes Child Support Hopeless
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico

The time has come for someone to speak in defense of "deadbeat dads." Divorced or separated parents who do not pay child support have been taking a beating from everyone including the President.

I have seen some parents who refuse to pay child support even though they have plenty of money to do so. I have also seen some parents with modest incomes who have paid absolutely nothing to support their children. For them, paying support is difficult, but paying nothing is inexcusable. I have seen still other parents who start second or even third families, having many more children than they can possibly afford to care for and they try to ignore their obligations to their first children. For these categories of deadbeat parents, I feel no sympathy and offer no clemency.

However, I have seen far more parents who are ordered to pay child support and who pay some support but not all they were ordered to pay. Many of these parents are engaged in a financial struggle which they cannot win. These are the working poor. People whose wages are less than $12,500 annually, which is the official poverty level income for a family of three.

An annual income of $12,500 translates to an hourly wage of $6.00, well above minimum wage. Workers whose annual wage is $12,500 have approximately $885 in monthly, spendable income. These workers almost never have medical insurance provided as a benefit. These workers also almost never have paid sick leave or any kind of paid, personal leave. When their employers celebrate a holiday, these workers don't get paid.

A survival budget in Albuquerque includes: $400 for a one-bedroom apartment, $100 for utilities and telephone, $65 for automobile insurance, (Not having car insurance is a crime, and public transportation is not readily available.) $50 for gasoline, $260 for daycare for one child and $200 for medical insurance at group rates. By the time the working poor have paid for housing, transportation, daycare and insurance, they are $140 behind, and they have not yet paid for any food, clothing, uninsured medical or dental expenses, laundry, car repairs, etc..

These workers, and there are many of them, obviously cannot afford to pay child support, which would be about $200/month. It is for this category of "deadbeat" parents that compassion stirs.

Financial stress takes a toll on marriages, and low wages are frequently a contributing factor to divorce. Parents who sense they are not adequately supporting their families can become despondent. They see themselves as failures and sometimes attempt to lift their spirits with unwholesome, marriage-destroying distractions such as alcohol or sex with people they don't know well.

Obviously, divorce will make the financial situation even worse, but if our society is to legitimately demand that parents support their children, it must either provide jobs that pay wages that make it possible or provide assistance such as public transportation, national health care and daycare subsidies. With more decent-paying jobs or subsidies, there may even be fewer divorces, and unpaid child support wouldn't be such a big problem.

For more Anne Kass articles, go here to select from complete list of 97 articles

For listing of over 200 helpful staff articles on Divorce, go here




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