BY JACK KRESNAK
FRIDAY August 7, 1992
Bill Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, wants something done about it. So does John Engler, the Republican governor of Michigan.
And more than 1.6 million children in Michigan need to have something done about it. They are the offspring of parents who have a combined debt in excess of $3 billion in court ordered child support. Nationally, the problem involves $18 billion and affects 16 million children, many of them living on welfare or in poverty while court ordered support goes
But parents on both sides of the issue–those sought for payments and those seeking support — are rejecting a long-awaited report issued this week by a commission that was supposed to take the lead in tackling the problem on a national scale.
The Commission on Interstate Child Support proposed that Congress enact sweeping new federal laws to catch up with parents who live in one state and are behind on child support in another.
The proposals include improved computer tracking of deadbeats and requiring employers to honor wage garnishees from other states for support payments.
For different reasons, the recommendations disappointed both the National Congress for Men and Children, a fathers rights group, and ACES — Association for Enforcement of Support.
The Commission “makes the false assumption that fathers are willingly failing to pay their child support,” Phillip Holman, chairman of the Michigan chapter of the fathers’ group, said Thursday.
Don Chavez, a New Mexico social worker who represented fathers on the Commission, said its members bought to a misconception that the biggest problem is “deadbeat dads” who flee cross state lines to avoid child support. He said research shows that Fathers who have consistent access to their children are far more likely to provide financial support.
“There are truly some deadbeat parents out there who, no matter what don’t pay any of their bills,” Chavez said. “They’re a small fringe of the population. And what’s being proposed is that we spend the greatest number of dollars on the smallest population of people.”
“That money would be much better spent if we went after the larger number of people, and we removed obstacles to fathers having relationships with their children.
Single mothers are the majority with problems getting support. Frequently young fathers are unemployed and unable to pay. Chavez favors enforcement programs that compel mothers to allow fathers to see their kids, and programs that provide job training and promote emotional involvement by the fathers.
Holman and Chavez said the emotional needs of children for their fathers are being ignored in favor of trying to squeeze more money from dads who do not have custody of their children.
Somewhat surprisingly, Geraldine Jensen, president of the Toledo-based ACES, agreed.
“The Commission completely shut out dealing with access and visitation issues,” she said.
Jensen said her group has proposed a child support insurance program similar to Social Security that would guarantee an income for the children of single parents. Critics say it would be a $5-billion undertaking. ACES would also like to see the federal government take over all child support enforcement because the 2-year-old state-based system hasn’t worked.
Gov. Engler vowed in his State of the State message this year to toughen Michigan’s child support enforcement System. Clinton, in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, targeted absentee fathers in his call to improve the conditions of children–to the chagrin of fathers’ groups who say deadbeat parents come from both genders.
But William Camden, Kent County Friend of the Court and president of the Michigan Friend of the Court Association, said ”the Commission did an outstanding job” and that if its recommendations are followed states will be more easily able to enforce their child support orders.
That’s not much comfort for Barbara Douyard, whose 16-year-old son Nicholas Roman, has been without financial or emotional support from his father since 1978.
“I’ve tried everything,” said he 34- year-old Detroit legal secretary whose ex-husband works in Tennessee for an employer who refuses to comply with wage-withholding orders from Michigan.
“Nick was having problems at school, but he turned it around and
became an honor roll student,” she said. “He wants to go to college, but
the money’s not there to send him. That $28,000 in child support
arrearage would sure help, but the Tennessee authorities are allowing his
dad to pay only $5 a week on that.”
“That’s ridiculous. He’s not going to be paying child support until Nick’s
33. He’s not going to do it after Nick turns 18. He’s just not.”