Should you Collect Unpaid Child Support even if you think you can provide on your own?
Many years ago, I was invited to someone’s home to hear about an investment opportunity. Initially, I thought the opportunity was intriguing and though I had a healthy dose of skepticism, I wanted to learn more. It is natural for me to ask a lot of questions. Anyone who knows me knows this and throughout my life I have learned that not everyone has an appreciation for questions. Asking questions got me kicked out of voice lessons when I was 19 because my vocal instructor told me that I “shouldn’t be asking questions” and that I “should just do what he tells me to do”. It got me into trouble in 8th grade with the nuns at the Catholic School that I attended because I was told to “stop asking questions and just believe and have faith”.
Conversely, asking questions has also given me a stronghold in many areas. It is how I learned to become a compelling advocate for myself, my family and for others. I have always been one to drill down when there are unanswered questions, when the answers provided don’t pass the smell test and when there is a need to get to the root cause of a problem. When situations occur within my circle of family and friends, I am the go-to-person, the one that everyone calls because they know that I am the one who will get to a root cause and get stuff done. When answers seem inconclusive, when it seems that financials need forensic analysis, such as in a case of back child support collection when the payor is a business owner, works in a cash-based business or is a 1099 contractor, if something doesn’t make sense my spidey senses start to tingle and I drill down until I find the truth and the paper trail where the proof lives.
The investment pitch concluded and naturally I had many questions. I wanted to learn more about the product and the company but instead of seeing it as a sales opportunity to overcome my objections, I suppose that the presenter took my questioning personally and began to take personal swipes at me. She knew that I operated a consulting company creating personalized child support collection strategies for women with high conflict collection cases and/or difficult payors. She also knew that the company was an outgrowth of my own collection problems and subsequent successes, and she thought that she had discovered my soft underbelly.
“Oh, I don’t know any women who don’t need child support who actually go after it.” She amplified and prolongated the word neeeed. “If you make enough money on your own then child support becomes a non-issue.” (As if!) The bitter reality though is that she audibly stated what a substantial number of people think but most never say.
If you go through the effort to collect unpaid child support, you must be destitute. Lowering yourself to garnishing the wages of your ex? You must desperate and destitute. Insisting that your ex financially support his children and take legal steps to do that? Then you must be so desperate for money, and so greedy that in fact, you sound like a golddigger. Instead of digging for gold in someone else’s pockets, take care of your kids yourself, don’t worry about what your ex is doing, get a job or get a better job, get a third job if you must and leave your ex alone.
These judgments and stigmas support the behavior of men who still vibe on a middle school level. Some never grow up and not only are they promoted but they are romanticized and even seen in our culture as “sexy” because that is just “the way men are.” Women are villainized for not wanting to be a doormat for them and often pay the consequences for speaking out against them. Moms end up paying the price by doing the work of two parents mentally, emotionally and financially while he coasts by and thumbs his nose at his child support obligations.
These stigmas permeate society. They degrade women and make excuses for these man-children. Needing child support payments from the other parent is not and will never be shameful, not even if you are indeed poor. It also doesn’t matter if your income allows you to cover the necessities in life but not extras, it doesn’t matter if you want to provide your children with more opportunities and your current salary doesn’t allow for it. If you don’t want to continually dip into your savings and retirements accounts when you come up short, that’s okay too because you are broke when you reach retirement age because you constantly raided your accounts to raise your children, that’s not okay either. Self-sufficiency and the pursuit of child support are not mutually exclusive. You can have all the money in the world and you would still have a right to collect unpaid child support.
When the other parent does not make support payments or when they do not pay their full share or their fair share, the primary parent makes up the difference. The needs of the children do not change simply because one parent has an inability to pay or is unwilling to contribute financially. When the kids lose their third lunchbox within the same month, the parent still replaces it. When school trips come up, when the sneakers get lost, when there is a birthday party gift needed and when the bicycle tires blow out, the parent pays, replaces, buys and repairs. If you pay their share of the paying, replacing, buying and repairing, that money is owed back to you. Over time that can amount to tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s like lending money to someone…you eventually expect to get it back. Who else would you allow to get away with owing you $50k, $75k, or $100k and not ask for it back? Would a bank ever lend that kind of money and not ask for it back? We need to make better financial decisions sometimes and that includes holding our ex’s accountable for their share of costs related to raising our children. Yes, sometimes they don’t want to pay and they hide and make themselves difficult to find. But yes, I contend that 99% of all deadbeats can be found. Read more about that here.
In the end, we all benefit. The less that we take out of our pockets now, the more that we will have for them later. That could be in the form of tutoring sessions, summers in Europe, dance or sports camps, and let’s not forget how much college costs these days. Other benefits might simply be paying your bills on time and not passing that stress onto your children or having the ability to take your kids out for an ice-cream cone without worrying whether you will have bus fare to get to work the next day.
We should all think about the reasons these ginormous amounts of money are important to us and to our children. Unless we know what motivates us, it could be easy to push it aside and not think about it. Collecting what is owed is not about revenge. It’s not about a bitter disposition or pining after an ex for their return. It’s about caring for and supporting our children. As parents, we are the ones who should be doing the sacrificing if any sacrificing needs to be done. Our children should never have to sacrifice because of our selfish choices.
Simone Spence is not a lawyer and she does not provide legal advice. She was a child support collections consultant for over 20 years and has written three highly regarded child support collection books. She developed the collections platform “Athena.”
In general, only a licensed attorney can give legal advice, but there is a distinction between “legal advice” and “legal information.” Any non-lawyer can simply recite laws, but it is illegal for a non-lawyer or unlicensed attorney to offer legal advice.
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