The Child Support System Is Broken, Part 1 Men in Prison Are Crushed by Accumulating Child Support Debt

The Child Support System Is Broken, Part 1 Men in Prison Are Crushed by Accumulating Child Support Debt

So, you’re incarcerated. You’re in prison for crimes against the state and society in general. But, can the state ever believe that while incarcerated you could still pay your child support obligations to your spouse or ex? Frankly, it’s clear, the child support system is BROKEN.  PERIOD.  Who in their right mind can reasonably expect an incarcerated prisoner to pay their $100 per week child support obligation when they earn, on average, $0.86 per hour, down from $0.93 in 2001?

But, according to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, Division of Policy and Training, “about one quarter of states treat incarceration as “voluntary unemployment” and refuse to allow prisoners to seek adjustment of their child support obligation. However, a new ‘Final Rule’ prohibits states from refusing an inmate from modifying a child support order.

Thank God the other remaining states permit incarcerated individuals to request a modification to their child support order. Each state has different rules and standards for this, but, for the most part, one must only show a substantial change in circumstances. That alone should be a low hurdle for most incarcerated individuals. Of course, he must still take all the necessary steps through the bureaucracy to make it happen.

And, their obligation continues during the modification request process.

Still…Incarcerated? That’s their problem!

On the surface, having a limited concern over the child support induced debt buildup for those who can’t follow the law may make sense. However, when you look at the numbers, it really is shocking.

Because the child support system is broken, these men leave prison $20,000 in debt, with no job, and almost zero prospects. Incarceration is supposed to be the punishment. When the time is served, the punishment is over and the crime behind them. These fathers are trying to get back into society and rejoin the workforce.  Where does that debt leave them? Look at the numbers:

  • Minimum wage monthly income at 40 hrs a week (before taxes): $1,200
  • Child support payment including arrears (5 yr loan, 6%): $387
  • Remaining: $813

To pay down their debt, they have to lose >30% of their income. After that hit, they still have to pay their current child support obligation. One can quickly see how they have no hope of meeting their living needs, paying off their debt, and meeting current child support obligations!

Factor in court-ordered wage garnishments of up to 65% to meet child support obligations (not counting your debt) and you can see how hopeless the spiral becomes. After the garnishment, they’ll likely have their driver’s license suspended, reducing their access to resources to get to work. After that, bank accounts get frozen

With all these obstacles, it is easy to see why most guys give up and never pay again. Eventually, they back away from their children.

So what? How does that affect a law abider like me?

It affects you by perpetuating the poverty of these children in our country. Government assistance for single parents was reduced in the 1990’s to shift the emphasis and responsibility onto the child support system and the non-custodial parent.

While it makes sense on the surface, but fathers in prison can’t pay child support. 

Multiple studies have proven again and again that there’s a huge benefit to children from having both parents involved in their lives. The only solutions available to newly released dads are either taking on additional jobs or returning to their old criminal activities. Additional work greatly reduces the time they can spend with their children can create problems for the kids later when they are adults. Returning to crime clearly is not the solution, but studies show it is what’s most probable.

There is the third option which almost guarantees they will fall behind in current obligations, further exacerbating the struggles of the children.

If they can’t pay, who will?

There’s only one pot of money for these struggling families: State or federal support, so back to tax payer. As a tax payer, you are funding a huge government agency tasked with enforcing child support obligations. But at the same time you, like it or not, are also funding support to these families anyway.

This is the very support we were supposed to reduce or eliminate through child support enforcement. Instead, we just created another government agency that only increases the total cost of tending to the original issue.

There are new programs being developed and pursued by many states that recognize the problem with the current approach. These states are forgiving debt, offering employment assistance to the dads coming out of prison, and training for both parents to assist them in navigating the current job market. Maryland, as an example, offers a staggered debt forgiveness program. The actual amounts forgiven are calculated based on a series courses and training designed to help dads in these situations find and retain work. The results of are impressive and should be mirrored by the rest of the nation.

The Child Support System Is Broken-1How much of the unpaid child support is this?

Incarcerated people fall into the category of those with no reported income up to $10,000 per year. A 2007 study by the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that about 25% of the no-wage earners in this category were incarcerated. No-wage earners account for 40% of the unpaid obligation debt in this country.

To put real numbers to the problem, there are 2.2 million people incarcerated this year. Half are parents, and a little over 1 out of 5 has a child support obligation, or 440,000 people. The zero wage earners account for around $40 billion of the total unpaid obligation!

Do we really think we are going to solve the poverty problem by leaning on that group to somehow come up with money they not only don’t have but are purposefully kept away from earning? What does it take to get the limited government resources shifted to groups that can actually help bring these dads back into working society and become active participants and fathers for their children?

It seems clear that when you hear the news media lament about how the total amount of unpaid child support in our country exceeds $100 billion that we could solve many of our poverty level, single-parent household woes by going after the deadbeats!

But what if the news media revealed the details behind the numbers and exposed the truth about how the bulk of this debt resides on the shoulders of American fathers who, themselves, exist below poverty standards?

In this three-part series, I’ll reveal the whole story to show the reality of life for these so-called “deadbeat” dads and how the child support system is broken on many levels that continue to exacerbate the financial problems of not just single-parented children, but also the support-paying parent as well.

Why Does this Matter?

There are three main reasons why we all need to be concerned about the state of children living in single parented households below the poverty level:

  • This is the United States, a beacon of hope and prosperity in the world. The fact that statistics continue to rise in the wrong direction clearly identifies a problem. Here is an area where we are failing this group within our population. It’s a slight on our founding beliefs and a stain on our reputation throughout the world.
  • Like it or not, the support and sustainment of these kids hits your wallet through welfare, school reduced lunches provided by local taxes, and the wide array of other programs in your area to help them.
  • Their plight is pinned on the non-payment of child support which taints the opinions of lawmakers and enforcement agencies nationwide towards ALL child support payers, even those of us that always meet our obligations.

With single-parent child poverty on the rise, child support became the main focus to ensure the other parent assisted in paying for the children’s well-being. Over $24 billion dollars is collected and distributed annually in child support. Even with this large amount paid, the total unpaid obligations are estimated in excess of $100 billion.

The gap in child support obligations versus collections led to the Child Support Recovery Act in 1992, and then it’s emotionally labeled amendment in 1998, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act (I’m not making that name up). The goal of these laws was to increase the likelihood of payment to reduce the drain on the welfare system.

The country was fed up with deadbeat parents and with having to pay for their kids through welfare. Emphasis was heavily placed on awarding child support in divorces and paternity cases, and laws were passed with strict punishments, including jail, for parents who didn’t keep up.

Decades later, we look back and wonder if these laws worked? No, the trend is still bad for these kids. The statistics for single-parent raised children are eye-opening. Almost 4 out of 10 children are born to unwed mothers, with a total of 17.4 million children raised without a father. Half of those children live below the poverty line.

If you aren’t especially saddened by the fact that this occurs in the US, and that isn’t enough to concern you, then the impact on your wallet, based on the second and third points I mentioned above, should.

Who gets impacted?

Everyone feels the pain to support children living below the poverty level through their taxes. For those who pay child support, the majority are the dads. Just over 82% of custodial parents are the mothers.

The child support-paying dads fall into one of three categories:

  • Sustainable wage earners
  • Poor
  • Incarcerated

With these being the three categories of child support paying dads, they are also the three categories of deadbeats. Those in jail, not surprisingly, have a difficult time making their payments.

The Bottom Line

As my father, and many like him, always said, “You do the crime, you pay the time.” Piling worthless, noncollectable debt on prisoners for back-due child support, though, almost goes against the cruel and unusual punishment stance our Constitution outlaws very clearly. As this series progresses, you’ll see the vast majority of the remaining portion of the unpaid child support debt falls into a similar, noncollectable category of parents. It’s time to recognize the flaws and that the current child support system is broken. Once we do that, we can head back to the drawing board and come up with real solutions to help these kids.

Think our child support system is broken? Where do your stand on the matter? Let us know in the comments!

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Ranking the Greatest and Nastiest States for Alimony What You Should Know About Alimony Before Getting Married

Ranking the Greatest and Nastiest States for Alimony What You Should Know About Alimony Before Getting Married

Alimony may have had its place in divorce, but far too often it is like a punishment for men. In a world where women continue to gain more of a percentage of the workforce, the need for alimony continues to come under fire. Some think alimony has traditionally been used as a way to get men to stay in a marriage they possibly did not want anymore. Whether true or not, thankfully, many states are changing those medieval modes of thinking about spousal support!

The Greatest Alimony States for Men

Georgia:

Georgia has some of the best laws in the country in regards to knocking out alimony from the divorce equation. Sometimes you have to wonder if they named it the Peach State after their alimony laws.

While some alimony can be ordered, usually it is not. They keep trying to improve their laws related to alimony, but as with legislation, it is difficult to cover all contingencies, like this one related to trust protection exclusion related to alimony.

Additionally, if the spousal payee committed adultery, they are barred from alimony payments altogether.

Texas:

Texas is one of the hardest states to get alimony payments in the country. It often is just not awarded at all.

The only downside is that the Lone Star State is a community-property state. Wealthy breadwinners beware! Property gets split down the middle.

Nevada:

The land of quickie marriages and divorces!

While this might not be the place where you make your last stand with your ex in a long, drawn-out battle, it can go very well in short, somewhat amicable divorces.

Note: Nevada is also a community property state.

Alaska:

Alaska has a non-monetary contribution to the marriage where marital fault may also be considered. But, this could be a double-edge sword.

If your wife contributed to the marriage by raising the kids, then, maybe it’s not so good. Conversely, if she cheated, the alimony gets booted.

New Hampshire:

Like Nevada, New Hampshire has a quick divorce turnaround time. While this does not always help with the alimony, it does give a failed marriage finality, faster. Then, you can move on with your life.

New Hampshire doesn’t just look at the usual things (earnings, children, education, etc.) but also each spouse’s earning potential outside the marriage.

Fault weighs heavily there, too, as does each spouse’s contributions to their joint properties.

The thorough examination is based on need and not a predetermined formula that might unfairly hurt the paying spouse.

Alabama:

In Alabama, the paying partner’s economic conditions are considered and weighed against the other spouse’s financial needs.

Alimony is ordered on a time frame, and ends:

  • Upon the death of either the payer or recipient,
  • When the recipient remarries, or
  • If the recipient moves in with a new mate

Cohabitation is important because (as you will see below) it means the receiving spouse cannot get away with receiving alimony payments for years while living with a new partner.

Delaware:

Delaware has some factors judges use to determine whether alimony is paid, and for how long.

Alimony is awarded for half the length of a marriage in cases where the divorce comes less than 20 years after the wedding date.

After the 20-year mark, however, it can go on for life.

Kansas:

By far one of the simplest systems in the country!

Kansas says alimony can last for a maximum of 121 months after the divorce. But, the awardee can apply for, and be granted, an additional 121 months in payments. This only happens in rare cases, though.

Tennessee:

Tennessee is committed to rehabilitative spousal support.They encourage job training and education.

That doesn’t mean judges will not order alimony to provide long-term support. It just means that spouses cannot receive money without genuine need.

Utah:

Alimony awards ordered not to exceed the length of the marriage. Also, they stop spousal support upon cohabitation and remarriage. What guy wants to pay an ex to live with some new guy?

The Worst Alimony States for Men

California:

While California was the first state to offer no-fault divorces, they are also one of the most expensive states in the country when it comes to court-ordered support after divorce.

Randall M. Kessler, chairman of the American Bar Association’s Section on Family Law, told Alan Farnham of ABC News,

“Child support in California is typically 10 times what it is…in Georgia or Nevada.”

For that reason alone, California, you made it onto the list of nastiest states for alimony in the country.

New Mexico:

This state’s laws allow scorned spouses to bring suit against their former partner’s new lover.

Talk about holding a grudge!

Mississippi:

Meet the second state to coddle grudge holders! Hell hath no wrath like legislators in New Mexico andMississippi!

Here, too, a scorned partner can legally sue their former spouse’s new lover for damages. Potentially, a non-guilty party can be held responsible for someone else’s failed marriage. Love to meet the jilted lover who created that law!

New York:

New York is one of the slowest states to reform their alimony laws. They held out on legalizing no-fault divorces until 2010. The delay cost litigants thousands of dollars in wasted fees.

That is the heart of the matter. New York has not made it easy for men seeking divorce to move on with their lives.

Colorado:

Colorado does not care if one or the other party to divorce can adequately support themselves.

Instead, they use a formula they call “temporary.” It takes 40% of the higher income deducted by 50% of the lower income. It is not based on financial reality. This “temporary” formula often becomes the long-term, more permanent formula.

Furthermore, Colorado is a community-property state. That means all property is divided equally. So, you could lose half of your property and assets. And then, still pay out 40% of your income.

Imagine getting divorced three times!? Does that mean you owe 120% of your income to your ex?

Florida:

The best way to sum up Florida’s messed up alimony policies is through the story of Debbie Israel.

The 47-year-old college math teacher from Miami refuses to marry her fiancé because of the state’s alimony for life laws. Once they get married, she will have to give a percentage of her wages to her would-be husband’s ex-wife as part of his household, permanently.

Yep, this makes Florida one of the nastiest states for alimony in the country.

West Virginia:

They almost didn’t make the nasty list. Their laws regarding marital misconduct ensure no adulterer, convicted felon, or spouse deserter gets awarded alimony.

But they do allow for the ordering of permanent spousal support. Were it not for that, they’d be on the nice list.

New Jersey:

The Garden State probably represents a lot of disheartening news for many spouses. They’re one of the last remaining states where permanent alimony is a possibility. While the system is equitable, permanent is not a sound way to set up alimony for couples who were only together for a few years.

Vermont & Connecticut:

I know I’m going all broken record here, but the thought of paying alimony in perpetuity stinks! It is with that thought in mind that I welcome Vermont and Connecticut to the list of nastiest states for alimony.

They round out the list of the worst 10 for that particular reason.

Final Thoughts

Residing in the right state is not a Get out of Jail Free, alimony card. However, it can significantly reduce your expenses over time.

While many of us can’t just pack up and move to a different state whenever we want, even if for more favorable alimony environment, we can have influence over the working situation in our home. The key reason for alimony across the country is to provide support while a non-working spouse re-enters the workforce. If both spouses work throughout the marriage, or definitely the years before the divorce, the alimony claims reduce significantly.

Alimony laws in this country ultimately vary from state to state. Pay attention (Now!) to the laws in your state before you get married. Make sure you will not get the screw when (and if) you divorce.

Make sure you’re with someone with whom you want to spend your life. Being sure is a much better alternative to being sorry.

How did your state shape up? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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What Every Guy Needs to Know About the Financial Side of Divorce Prepare Yourself Before Its Too Late

What Every Guy Needs to Know About the Financial Side of Divorce Prepare Yourself Before Its Too Late

Divorce is like an emotional hurricane. It’s hard to think straight in the middle of the emotional storm, and it’s normal for your financial frame of mind to blur when going through a divorce. But no matter your stress level or your fuzzy frame of mind, it’s extremely important to prepare yourself for the financial side of divorce.

Your divorce is going to result in decisions that will have a huge impact on your finances both now and in the future. Don’t wait until you’re mid or post-divorce to figure out the costs. This can lead to unwanted surprises. But being prepared ensures you won’t be financially devastated as you move forward.

8 Tips To Help Handle the Financial Side of Divorce

  1. Get Educated about the Financial Side of Divorce

Your finances is an important element that you naturally think about in the break-up of your marriage. Divorce is stressful and traumatic, and with emotions running rampant, you’re likely not going to be thinking clearly during your divorce. But you need to be educated about the costs that come along with your divorce, and get yourself ready to deal with them.

From lawyers and experts, to real estate agents, financial planning, and therapy, costs can range between $10,000 to $20,000. If managed properly, the cost can be considerably lower. Whatever the case may be, make sure you’re prepared for the cost of your divorce by educating yourself.

  1. Know Your Financial Obligations

If you have children, you’re likely the one who’s going to pay child support.  If child support is part of your divorce agreement, you are legally obligated to pay it. Some guys who are supposed to pay child support don’t pay it or don’t pay it in full, which is a legal no-no. The well-being of your children should come first, and the amount of child support that’s decided by the court or mandated by the state is what you’re obligated to pay.

Always pay your child support in full. If there’s a significant change in your financial situation or in your custody agreement it can be adjusted. But, until then, you should pay what is required. Child support pays for everything from the basic necessities of life like food, clothing and housing, and may include child care, education fees, medical expenses and extra curricular activities. If you’re concerned about the money not going to your children, try to find alternate solutions where you can pay service providers directly.

  1. Be Open to Alimony

Whether you chose to be a stay-at-home dad, or your ex chose to be a stay at home mom, be open to the possibility of alimony. Lots of guys are closed-off to the idea of alimony, not wanting to give the Ex a free ride. But, paying alimony for some short duration of time should also reduce your child support obligation.

Keep in mind, when you’re the one writing the alimony check, the alimony payments are tax deductible, whereas child support is not. Try offsetting child support, dollar for dollar, with alimony so a to take advantage of the tax savings.

  1. Do Not Hide Your Assets

Divorce can be scary, but the last thing you want to do is panic and move money out of your bank account and into hiding. If the money is found (which it likely will be), you’ll lose your credibility in court and won’t be trusted in any asset discussions. Worse, you may be penalized by the court for your deceit.

Revealing your assets is a legal requirement of all divorcing couples, so disclose everything that belongs to you and don’t hide anything. On top of not being trusted in court, you could be ordered to pay your ex’s attorney fees or the court may even award her all of your undisclosed assets.

  1. Track the Money

You should locate all of your marital financial resources to help ensure your future. This includes everything from your bank accounts and assets to incomes, properties, retirement plan, vehicles, furniture, brokerage accounts, and insurance policies – everything that’s owned jointly and/or separately by the two of you. Then organize everything into 401(k) and IRA statements, employment retirement accounts, employment bonuses and stock options/awards, real estate holdings, insurance policies (those that have cash values), mortgages, house and vacation home appraisals, brokerage accounts, money market accounts and tax returns. Tracking your monetary assets now can help stabilize your financial situation in the future.

  1. Protect Yourself

There are many ways to protect yourself, your finances and your assets during the divorce process. Separate your non-marital assets – property belonging to you, such as gifts you were given, that are not subject to equitable distribution. Also, make sure to cancel any joint bank accounts and open individual accounts, but, be careful not to disproportionately take more than what is rightfully yours in the process. Check your credit reports from all three credit agencies (EquifaxTransunionExperian) and double check that all credit cards in your report are accounted for an/or cancelled. Get new credit cards in your name and close all unused credit accounts. You don’t want your Ex racking additional debt during the divorce process for which you may be held responsible

And don’t be afraid to talk to your spouse to get the information you need. It’s important you’re both aware of your complete financial situation and understand the debts you share as a couple and individually. To avoid unforeseen surprises, with the help of your attorney, ask for a full disclosure of all financial records and accounts and be prepared to share yours. Don’t forget to change your will (and beneficiaries), medical proxy, living will, and your brokerage account beneficiaries too.

  1. Create a Post-Divorce Budget

Your post-divorce life is going to look much different than your life did when you were married, and it’s important you prepare a budget to account for everything that may come your way. Every day expenses are going to change when you’re single, and if you have kids, you’re going to want to make sure you have everything they need to feel at home and comfortable in your new place.

It’s easy to just focus on divorce-related expenses like child support and alimony, but it’s key to recognize your new reality. Talk to a financial planner if you need to, and create a realistic and meaningful budget for your new single  lifestyle.

  1. Resist the Urge to Impulse Buy

It’d likely you did not initiate the divorce, but divorce always results in a sense of loss. You’re losing a big part of your life and it’s likely very devastating. People deal with loss in different ways, and sometimes we think, albeit illogically, that making a big purchase, like an expensive new car or a big new house will make us feel better.

Divorce is expensive. Your post-divorce life is going to come with new costs you won’t be accustomed to or prepared for. Resist the urge to purchase expensive items on impulse, especially within the first twelve to twenty four months of your divorce.

If you’re about to go through a split, don’t neglect the financial side of divorce. It may be the last thing you want to think about, but it’s crucial for your financial well-being.

What are your biggest questions or concerns when it comes to divorce financials? Write us and let us know in your comments below.

Fighting Over Money You Pay Your Ex Divorce Advice for Men on Child Support Disputes

Fighting Over Money You Pay Your Ex Divorce Advice for Men on Child Support Disputes

Are you outraged about the money you pay your ex for child support? Do you spend a lot of time wondering what she does with your money that doesn’t involve support of your children? Do your thoughts about your money and your ex consume a great deal of your time and energy?

Fighting over money can wreck relationships and is one of the most significant sources of post-divorce conflict too. If you find yourself caught in this trap, you can benefit from understanding painful triggers and how to decide when to fight over the money you pay your ex.

I have four tips for managing money issues successfully with your ex post-divorce. If you can set aside all of the preconceptions you bring to the table about your ex-wife and your money, and how it impacts the children, you can do this.

That’s asking a lot, but your children’s happiness is worth it.  You may need to re-frame the way you have been thinking of the ex since the divorce, but you can make the shift with some hard work and determination.

The first thing you can do is to recognize that money you pay your ex through child support is intended to equalize, to a limited degree, the homes in which the child lives. This means their mother may benefit from the child support too. This concept probably wasn’t introduced to you during your divorce negotiations, but makes it clear that it’s okay for an ex-wife to have some benefit from the child support payments. The idea is that when children have less disparity between the two households where they reside, it is good for them.

Also, your views about money should be considered. Have you always been a “cup half full” person? Do you worry that there isn’t enough to go around? Or do you always expect to have enough money but sometimes come up short?

Whatever the case, take notice of what you bring to the table regarding money, perhaps based on your childhood, and acknowledge it. Although you may want to think otherwise, your ex isn’t responsible for all of your money issues. You play a role in how you manage money, and how you think about money, and it’s up to you to take responsibility for this. If you can do that, and use the four tools below, you are well on the way to creating a system for keeping money in its place in your life and with the ex!

1.      Recognize It’s Good for Your Children If Your Ex Isn’t Struggling Financially.

Simply put, child support is intended to equalize income, to some limited extent, between homes. Whatever your “beef” with your ex, don’t make this one of them. You cannot control how she spends the money so let that go. Assume she, like you, is doing the best she can to take care of your children too.  If you’ve spent a long time believing otherwise, this isn’t an easy task. But, it’s an important one.

When you begin to let go of the need to “punish” your ex for perceived misdeeds of the marriage, or your divorce, it will help you to allow the space for her to move forward successfully too. The expression, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” applies here as your children are surely well served by having two financially secure parents.

2.      Stop Talking About Money All the Time

Start by paying what you owe on time and not commenting negatively, for one month, on any money issues. If there is a real problem, you will deal with that, as needed. But, not right now.  You should create a budget for yourself, including the money paid to your ex, and make a plan to live within it. If you consider the money paid to your ex simply part of your monthly operating expenses, rather than an unnecessary burden, it may be simpler to stop thinking about it all of the time. Take the steps necessary to limit focusing on it. That will help you and your children.

Also, free yourself from the repetitive mantra of, “She’s a witch and is spending all of my money.” Instead, if it’s impossible to see her as a partner in co-parenting right now, acknowledge, if nothing else, she has the kids when you don’t. It’s good for them to be happy and secure when they are not with you. Your money helps them. Period.

3.      Don’t Talk to Your Kids About The Money You Pay Your Ex

There are no exceptions to this rule. Just don’t. They won’t think better of you if you tell them the money is all yours or that you are the only one who provides for them. They love their mom too, and they should, and this only makes them uncomfortable and insecure. You must choose to prioritize your children’s emotional health over your own need to feel as though you have somehow been victorious over your ex. There are no winners when children are put between their divorced parents. Their esteem is tied to what you say about their mother too.

 

4.      Keep Your Disagreements Civil and Simple

You are well served to have a system in place to address disagreements that arise outside of court. Perhaps you can develop a quarterly reconciliation of expenses outside of support, preferably by email, that works for you. Limit your comments to the expense itself and do not infer intent in your communication with your ex. It doesn’t solve the problem and is likely to only heighten the conflict.

Think carefully before escalating the dispute to the legal arena. It is much preferred, for the benefit of your children, to consider mediating expense conflicts outside of court. As a last resort, take your disagreement to court. Of course, if your income changes and modification of an order is necessary, you may need to use the legal process. Just remember to keep it matter-of-fact and don’t make it personal to your ex. She has her own money pressures and adding your negative energy will only hurt your children.

You are Your Kid’s Example

You can decide when to fight over money you pay your ex. Knowing when to let it go is likely the most important thing you can do for your own well-being and to take care of your kids. Recognize when you are triggered by money and your ex and always take a pause. Use the four tools above to limit your unnecessary interaction with your kids and their mother over money and make a plan to address when there is a dispute. You have a choice and can only control how you behave. Make sure you do to benefit you and your children, now and into their adulthood. Teaching them how to manage money, even when it’s difficult will help them now and long into their future. It’s really up to you!


(c) Can Stock Photo / AndreyPopov

When Spending On Children Gets Out of Control Divorce Advice for Dads on How to Draw the Line

When Spending On Children Gets Out of Control Divorce Advice for Dads on How to Draw the Line

Kids cost money, an undeniable fact. While it is impossible to know from the start just how much those little bundles of joy will cost you, experts predict a total cost of almost $250,000 on average. In the most recent estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the annual amount of spending on children ranged from $9,330 to $23,380. Costs varied, of course, depending on household income, the age of the child, and family composition.

The USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families annual report aids family court systems and government agencies in determining child support expenses. It provides estimates for significant budget items in the cost of raising children from birth through age 17. The budgetary components include food, housing, transportation, healthcare, clothing, childcare, and education. The report also provides estimates for miscellaneous goods and services. Included are things such as non-school reading materials, haircuts, entertainment, and personal care items.

Child-Rearing Expenses

Child support and overall spending on children for that matter is an extremely sensitive topic in divorce and parent custodial matters. To begin understanding what is right or fair for child support we should start by looking at what costs typically arise when providing for a child. Listed below are some very common expenses.

Necessities Such as Food, Clothing, Shelter

  • groceries, snacks, beverages, and other food items
  • boots, shoes, jackets, and appropriate clothing
  • housing shelter costs, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, telephone, and water

Medical Care Insurance

  • medical, dental, and vision insurance

Uninsured Medical Expenses

  • out-of-pocket medical costs that exceed the cost of a basic health care insurance plan
    • including co-pays, deductibles
    • accident or emergency services costs
  • dental braces
  • eyeglasses
  • special health care costs

Educational Fees

  • school clothes/uniforms
  • school photos
  • yearbooks
  • tuition fees
  • textbooks
  • lunch money
  • private tutors, if necessary

Childcare

  • daycare services
  • babysitters
  • nannies
  • childcare during summer months, spring break, and some holidays

Transportation/Travel

  • basic transportation and travel cost
    • gas fees
    • car payments
    • registration
    • insurance
  • bus fare or other forms of transportation
  • child’s travel to visit the noncustodial parent

Entertainment

  • access to computers
  • television programs
  • games
  • Internet
  • movie theatre
  • amusement parks
  • camping trips and other outings

Extracurricular Activities

  • after-school programs/classes
  • summer camp
  • sports activities
  • clubs – ex. Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts
  • music, dance, or other private lessons

While this list is not exhaustive, it gives a good indication of what costs might come up over the course of your child’s life. When considering what is enough spending on children, it is important to know basic child support payments may not (and probably won’t) provide your child with more than their minimal needs. If you want them to enjoy an enriched life too, you may end up spending a bit more.

What Am I Paying For?

State laws, which vary from state to state, regulate what expenses are included in direct child support calculations. All 50 states create and utilize child support guidelines to determine amounts one parent may be required to pay to the other for child-related expenses. A variety of factors are taken into consideration to decide what is ultimately the amount of support needed to maintain a child’s standard of living as close to what it was in a two-parent home. Income and the ability to pay support are primary factors in these calculations.

Be sure and check the child support guidelines in your state, as the laws vary greatly.

Once the court factors the essential financial and support needs of a child, a child support order is issued to reflect the determined amount one parent must pay. Should there be a change in the child’s needs, or if a significant difference develops in one parent’s circumstances,, a request for change may be filed.

While childcare, uninsured medical expenses and extracurricular activities are typical expenses in raising a child, they are not always routinely calculated in child support amounts ordered by the courts. These costs may be included in the divorce settlement agreement, however, upon request.

To avoid questions and potential disagreements with your ex-wife in the future, lay out as many of these additional child-rearing expenses as possible in your divorce agreement. If you did not outline these other costs, daycare or uninsured dental care as an example, in your initial child support agreement, you might wish to do so now. 

Don’t underestimate the value an experienced divorce lawyer can provide to help ensure the best outcome for both you and your child.

While courts may not command the parent paying child support to provide additional monies to cover dance recitals and traveling sports, when it’s important to your kid, you might want to go ahead and budget a little extra for upcoming events.

As you evaluate the needs for your lifestyle as a single man and work to determine a budget for your post-divorce life, be realistic about what child support covers and what it does not. There may be times you are asked to pay for things that are not basic needs but will enhance your child’s life. Responding to these money inquiries may require setting aside personal feelings of your ex. This is why detailing what supporting your child after a divorce entails, as precisely as possible, in your initial divorce discussions should help you navigate when these times come.

My Ex Won’t Account for the Money

Courts do not require the parents who receive child support to prove the child support payments go toward specific expenses or activities. It is assumed by the courts that custodial parents of children are spending on children as required to adequately raise the child. Thus, they will not monitor the expenses and spending habits of a custodial parent unless there is compelling evidence to indicate misuse of support payments.

Continually being asked to send additional money or receiving numerous requests to purchase essential items like underwear, socks, and toothpaste may indicate your ex-spouse is not using the support funds correctly.

Before getting too pissed off, see if a change in circumstances is causing these requests. Maybe her car broke down, and she needs extra money for repairs. You can give her some slack, or help her out a little bit, or you can laugh in her face and tell her to ride the damn bus. But don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You never know when circumstances may be reversed, and you may be the one in a financial pinch.

However, if you are convinced your ex-wife is not utilizing the support payments to provide for your kids, start taking notes. Record the requests she makes for extras, as well as any spending you are doing during your parenting time if you end up purchasing necessities for your child. Keep receipts of what you buy and request reimbursement for amounts you think are reasonable.

If your reimbursement requests go ignored, or the pleas for more money from you do not stop, consider consulting an attorney.

Spending on Children, the Bottom Line

It is highly unlikely the amount set for child support by the courts will cover all the needs of your children all through their childhood years to age 18. The more you can prepare yourself (and any future spouse) for covering some additional expenses the better off your child, and all parental parties will be.

Discuss with your child’s mother early on how you will split extra costs for your kids to avoid potentially ugly discussions down the line. It is better to deal with the issues now than to disappoint your child later because you disagree with their mom on who will pay for piano lessons or hockey skates.

Spending on children is something every parent must do, whether married or divorced. While child support payment and money for extras is for the care and benefit of your child, you aren’t a bad dad if you draw the line at excessive spending.

 


(c) Can Stock Photo / nastia1983

Fathers Rights When Dad’s Incarcerated How to Stay Connected with Your Kids

Fathers Rights When Dad’s Incarcerated How to Stay Connected with Your Kids

Fathers Rights advocates understand that a man who is incarcerated does not bear the weight of his punishment alone. His family—especially those most dependent and vulnerable, his children—also suffer. Kids of imprisoned fathers face well documented adverse effects. Having a dad in jail or prison puts his kids at higher risk to experience poverty, suffer from addiction, or end up behind bars themselves. These children often live with trauma, shame, social stigmatization, guilt, and financial hardship. As if the picture is not bleak enough, incarceration leads to generational institutionalization. Growing up fatherless is the number one predictor of criminal behavior in a child’s future. In fact, most dads in prison are fatherless. It’s a tragic cycle.

This is not just a family problem. With 1.5 million kids in this country separated from their fathers as a result of state or federal incarceration, it is a societal issue. Add inmates imprisoned in jails, and the number jumps to 1 out of 28 U.S. children. And the problem is growing. The number of children with a father in prison has skyrocketed by 79% since 1991. To help these children, we all have a stake in helping these fathers. In fact, dads who have a relationship with their kids are less likely to re-offend. That’s a huge benefit to these children, who are our country’s future, and to society as a whole, since two-thirds of prisoners end up committing crimes which land them back in prison within three years of their release. 

Barriers to Parenthood in Prison

As an incarcerated father, you face unique parenting challenges. It can be difficult to see your children if you are imprisoned. There may be no one willing to bring your children to visit you. If you lack the means to pay support, it can affect your kids and your custody rights once you get out, and simple communication via phone and mail can be unaffordable while inside. Private phone companies are making a killing exploiting those who have the least money to pay, holding their relationships with their loved-ones hostage for up to $24.95 for a fifteen minute, in-state phone conversation.

Free, in-person visits are the newest area targeted by private companies for profit. There is a trend to replace in-person connection with video visitation technology that charges up to $1.50 a minute for low quality, offsite video conferencing.

Distance presents another hurdle for fathers behind bars. Proximity to family members is not always taken into account in determining where a prisoner will be sent to serve his time. Fathers rights take a back seat to considerations of overcrowding and other issues. As the distance loved ones must traverse to visit incarcerated family members increases, the likelihood of getting a visit, and the number of visits, decreases.

What are Fathers Rights in Prison?

From the inside, it can be difficult to find information on fathers’ rights or to access legal resources. The feeling of powerlessness and the struggle to stay in touch add to the strain of prison life for dads that are serving time. It may not be easy, but it is vital to stay in touch with your children, for their benefit as well as for yours. Children who have a relationship with their father have a better shot at a brighter future, and inmates who maintain healthy relationships with their loved ones are less likely to return to prison.

Tips for Protecting Fathers Rights While Incarcerated

1. Maintain Visitation

If your children are unable to visit because of financial hardship, distance, or other reasons, then keep in touch by phone. Lack of interest can be used as grounds to terminate a fathers’ rights and clear the path for adoption by your ex’s new husband, by your child’s caregivers, or the foster parents.

The onus is on you, as a father, to research and know the laws of your state. Seek legal counsel if necessary. Time is one resource that is abundant in prison; invest it wisely into nurturing meaningful contact with your kids and educating yourself on how your state’s laws function.

2. Document your Progress

Make a record of the positive steps you have taken while in prison to be a good father and to prepare yourself for success once you get out. Upon your release, you will have to prove to the judge that you can safely care for your kids. These records will show your efforts to visit and contact your children, as well as classes and certifications you have earned from rehabilitation programs. Be detailed; write down the time and date of everything you do for your child. A documented list of your interactions with your kids and others involved in their care will go a long way in convincing a judge you are serious about being a good parent. 

How to make a record:

  • Use a notebook or piece of paper to keep track of all visits and calls with your child and anyone connected to your case. Be sure to write down the date and time. Add any additional notes you feel were important to remember about the call or meeting.
  • Include calls and visits from your child, your child’s caregiver, your lawyer and the social worker.
  • Write down dates of letters or pictures you send your child and keep a copy.
  • Attend programs and meetings offered by your institution. Keep a record of these and any copies of certificates of completion. Some detention facilities offer classes on parenting, be sure to attend these if offered. Do not only take classes or participate in programs that are mandatory; take the initiative by taking advantage of resources that are voluntary.
  • Ask the teachers and counselors of any programs you complete if they can write a letter about your performance.

Tips to stay actively involved in your child’s life:

  • Ask about their education. Ask to see report cards, inquire about their favorite classes and any challenges they may be having.
  • Be supportive and understanding of their daily achievements and struggles.
  • Stay focused on your kids and their needs. Try not to add to their burden by placing your problems or issues on them. Keep visits positive, so your children leave with a good feeling.
  • Be patient and let the relationship grow slowly and steadily. Trying to force things will likely have the opposite effect of making your child more closed off and resistant. Nurturing a relationship takes time.

3. Stay on Top of Child Support

Father’s rights, when incarcerated with a Child Support Order, vary by state, but whichever jurisdiction your judgment falls under, you must be informed to avoid the risk of leaving prison with a mountain of debt. On average, an incarcerated parent with a Child Support Order can potentially leave prison with nearly $20,000 in child support debt, having entered detention with around half that amount owed.

Laws regarding Child Support and incarceration:

Whether incarcerated or not, a material and substantial change in circumstances is required to modify child support orders in most states. Two situations that may be treated as a material and substantial change in circumstances are incarceration and unemployment. State policies regarding modification of child support during incarceration vary and depend on a number of factors.

A significant reduction in income due to a job loss or job change is generally considered a material and substantial change for modifying child support if the job loss or reduction in earnings was involuntary (usually meaning you were fired or laid off). If a parent tries to avoid child support payments by voluntarily losing their job (such as quitting work or refusing to work), it is not considered a material and substantial change of circumstances and would not qualify for modifying child support.  

Currently, there is a federal rule in place that makes it illegal for state child support programs to treat incarceration as voluntary unemployment, which means you can request a modification of your child support to take into account that you are no longer able to work in the same capacity you did on the outside.

Be aware: most states require you to be proactive in making that request. You must familiarize yourself with the process to file a modification and to do so within the mandated time limit. In a couple of states, the responsibility is not on the incarcerated father to file, but these are the rare exceptions. Recent California law requires the Child Support Order to be automatically suspended in the cases of incarceration or involuntarily institutionalized. Vermont and Wisconsin allow the child support agency to file a motion to modify the Child Support Orders on behalf of those fathers that are incarcerated. The key is to seek legal counsel or do your research, so you are informed. The burden of filing falls on the father.

The consequences of falling behind on child support are not merely added debt. Non-payment can be used against you in custody judgments and can result in revocation of privileges once you are released, such as an industry licenses, business licenses or your driver’s license.

To find out the laws that apply to your case, check the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement State-by-State-How to Change a Child Support Order page and the Modification Laws and Policies for Incarcerated Noncustodial Parents facts sheet.

4. Access Free Resources

Here are a few online resources for information, support and more.

The Prison Fellowship offers resources that tackle everything from how to avoid “visiting room sabotage” to offering interactive activities for visiting day.

The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated is “the oldest and largest organization in the U.S. focused on children and families of the incarcerated and programs that serve them.”

For fathers of young children, Sesame Street offers a wonderful Incarceration Toolkit that uses the characters in the show to introduce the idea of a father’s incarceration to young kids in an entertaining way that they can understand.

When fathers rights are used to promote a healthy, ongoing relationship with their children, we all profit as a society. Benefits include a reduction in recidivism for incarcerated dads, a more promising future for their children, a decrease in taxpayer-funded detention facilities, and healthier communities for us all. All that is needed to break the cycle of the damaging effects of fatherlessness is for fathers to assert their legal rights to pursue positive father-child involvement.


(c) Can Stock Photo / fuzzbones

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