Money as a Weapon: Using Child Support as a Tool of Abuse
At a support group in Texas, I was drawn to a tall, blonde woman wearing unusual jewelry handcrafted out of brilliant beads and old silver flatware wired together in gorgeous harmony. She was an alluring figure whose outfit and demeanor said, “cool, calm, well put together.” Looks are deceiving. As we talked I found out that she was recently divorced after a 24-year marriage to an alcoholic with four children. She had inherited her parents’ farmhouse eighteen years ago, and had remodeled it into the perfect home for her family. As a single woman with children, she financially could not keep the house and had let her husband take full ownership in hopes that the family home would be passed on to their children rather than sold to strangers. She now lived in a tiny apartment with two of the children who were still minors. At her divorce hearing, her husband had cornered her outside the restroom out of view of the courtroom and attorneys and with his finger in her face hissed at her that “if you humiliate me with wage garnishment I will see to it that you never get a penny of child support.” She could smell the whiskey on his breath under the shot of mouthwash and knew he meant business. She instructed her attorney not to file the withholding motion with the child support paperwork.
Her first attempt to collect the monthly child support was met with “not today” “I don’t have time for you” and “come over to the house and get it next week”. She had to return to her former home which was now filthy and in disarray to find her former husband very intoxicated and angry. He forced her to sit down and berated her for nearly an hour before handing over the child support check. She was shaken but so relieved to have a check to deposit she tried to shake it off.
A month went by, no check. She called him and got the same runaround and ended up trekking out to her former home again to pick up the check. This time she arrived to find a rented bush hog in the middle of her mother’s rose garden and heirloom roses, over a century old, destroyed. She started to cry. Her ex-husband was standing on the porch watching her, laughing uproariously. He balled the check up, threw it at her and slammed the door. This began a monthly cycle of having to beg for her child support and pay for it by receiving abuse. “WHY?” I asked in absolute horror, “Why?”.
She shook her head sadly, “I have a bachelor’s degree, that means nothing in this job market as I was a stay at home wife and mother for 24 years. I am working as a teacher’s aide until I can get my teaching certificate and I’m teaching art classes on the side, but it’s not enough to feed and house my younger ones and he’s not taking care of the two in college now either. I have to have that child support money to keep us all afloat.”
This woman, who requested her name not be used, attends a divorce support group to decompress from this monthly ordeal and psych herself up for the next round until she can be finally free from this abuser.
Money is a very compelling weapon in the hands of an abuser, and this story illustrates how child support is used as a weapon of financial abuse today. Even when the support payments are not withheld to force another person into poverty it can still be used abusively.
Christina M. from Wisconsin, does receive her child support, along with text messages: “You are a lazy piece of *** getting my money for free!” as well as: “There you go your useless waste of a human being. You are getting my taxes. This won’t happen again; the arrears are caught up now… and you wonder why I think you’re a piece of ****…I wish you would just disappear.”
I wonder what the kids must think? Because you are kidding yourself if you think the children are not aware of this dynamic.
Social media posts are also a way to get a good “dig” in such as this one:
Unfortunately, I must report to you that these are only three examples and I can give hundreds more of the abusive text messages, online posts and statements of verbal abuse parents all over America are enduring to simply receive that few hundred dollars per month that is intended for the support of the children involved.
Child support is also being used as a legal abuse tactic, in the case of a mother in Florida who insisted on anonymity: A twenty-year marriage ended with three kids, Mom stayed in the former marital residence with the children and went immediately back to work. Dad never paid his child support despite several attempts to collect through the Florida Department of Revenue. He simply did not pay. No action was taken. Mom lost the house, is now working two jobs and living with three kids in a townhome she could rent. Dad bought a lake house, three jet skis and invited the kids to live with him. Faced with being cramped in a tiny townhouse with mom, who is always working anyway, or living at the lake with jet skis the teens bolted. Within 24 hours of having two of the children “living” with him, Dad filed motions for custody and child support. Mom has no money for an attorney but figures when she goes to court and shows the judge that he never paid HIS child support nothing will come of this. The judge refused to hear that evidence, listened to dad’s attorney who stated that Mom losing the former marital residence was “proof of her instability” awarded custody and $650 a month child support to the dad. The dad is now bragging throughout the extended family how he got his former wife to finance his new boat. Mom had to move to a tiny apartment to be able to pay the child support.
Even more tragic than these examples are when child support is withheld to punish the parent, and the child ends up paying the price.
In 2010 my own daughter needed surgery on her face, the surgeon wanted to do the procedure on the first day of Christmas break so that any bruising she had would be healed before school started again. My daughter had been horribly picked on at school over the angioma on her face and it needed to be removed for medical as well as cosmetic reasons. After being notified of the surgery, my ex-husband canceled the insurance policy on our kids.
- Ash B. of Utah, saw her ex-husband post online about buying a new phone for his fiancé’. Then her child support payments stopped coming. Because of this nonpayment, one of her three sons was not able to travel to California with his school orchestra. Ash had contacted her ex about the trip and the father was aware that his son had the opportunity to participate in this exciting adventure and did nothing. Ash says, “it was a very difficult Christmas…”
- Deb J. of Washington, states that her son played on an elite soccer team for eight years, however after over three years of trying to collect her child support and putting the expenses on credit cards she simply could no longer keep up. Her son had to drop out of soccer and give up his team, becoming very depressed, getting in trouble at school and smoking.
- Margaret R. of Arizona, states that her ex informed her, “you are lucky to work at a job that allows overtime! So why should I also have to support him?” Referring to their son…
- Amber H. of California, states that her ex-husband flaunts his new truck and boat on Instagram and has even bragged about his new toys to her father, but calls Amber a “money hungry *****”, “gold digger” and told her “I need to take care of my family, but you keep trying to take my money which I work for!” So, the daughter he has with Amber is not his “family”? Amber states she provided messages written to her by her ex-husband to the state child support enforcement officer which stated, “I will never get a real job because I don’t want them to take my money to actually pay you.” Even though California should address this Amber states they have not. They have told her that a bench warrant should have been issued on his failure to appear for contempt charges but “they don’t know why it never got filed”.
Financial abuse of single parents continues with the actual people who are getting PAID to enforce child support orders for our children, child support enforcement officers.
- Tom M. of Ohio was told by CSE officers, “after 18 months of trying to get the non-custodial parent to show up for a hearing we are dropping your case. You make $35 an hour, why do you need child support anyway?” Tom is a single father to four teenagers!
- Jennifer B. from Montana was told by a caseworker to “stop calling! It takes months to get information.”
- A young single mother in Wisconsin, who was afraid to give her name, stated she was told by Taylor County, “to get a second job and quit calling.”
- Sheena E. of Kentucky, was told by a caseworker in Anderson County, “We know he’s working but we can’t get any of his employers to call us back.” And, “we tried to serve the warrant, but his girlfriend says he’s never home. “
- Stacy S. of California, was told by her caseworker, “He actually will not actually go to jail. The jails are to full.” Now the states are demanding that you not call about your case more than once in a 30-day time frame. I was personally told by a Texas call center operator, “do not call again!” just last month. I have documented my phone calls in “call logs” and I have been left on hold for hours, then spoken to some of the rudest individuals I have ever encountered. Most of them do not know the answers to basic questions. Maybe they are ashamed of their poor job performance? Or maybe our children do not need food or school supplies or clothing for months on end while we are “on hold” and waiting for answers? No one told my kids that!
- Angie S. from Colorado states her ex-husband is $24,000 in arrears has been told, “The child support amount is the highest of anyone I know and that is why I am refusing to pay it! I am not going to pay child support because you will use it on vacations and fancy stuff!” When she sought help from Larimer County she was told by her case worker, “The county attorney prosecuted once and it didn’t work, he didn’t pay, so the county wont’ do it again.” So, this is how you break the law in Colorado and get away with it? Just do not do anything you do not want to do. When Angie questioned how her ex could get his driver’s license back while still refusing to abide by court orders she was informed, “It is a private matter. I can’t tell you anything else.”
The amounts of child support ordered to these quoted parents range from $80.00 a month to $800.00 a month. Not thousands of dollars taken from one person to another without reason, but a few hundred dollars that goes towards the care of our most vulnerable citizens. It goes to help the parent or person in charge of these children manage the costs of school fees, uniforms, lunches, extracurricular activities, field trips, birthday parties, three pairs of shoes in three months during a growth spurt, the $11 trifold for a project that is due tomorrow they forgot to tell you they needed along with construction paper and three glue sticks. The extra case of diapers and wipes for a baby on antibiotics who has diarrhea, and maybe just being able to swing through a drive through and get a hamburger as a treat instead of Ramen noodles for dinner.
IF you were half of the equation that created a child, you are responsible for that child. It is time for the men and women of America to stand up and parent responsibly—it does not matter how the relationship ended. It does not matter if your new spouse is jealous of or hates your ex. It does not matter how hurt or betrayed you are. Nothing matters except that child. It is past time for all of us, for you, to do the right thing by these children. And doing right by a child means you “do right” by the caregiver of that child. No matter what. No verbal abuse, no smutty social media posts, not balling up a check and throwing it at your ex-spouse, there are NO EXCUSES for treating someone you created a child with in these ways. Believe me, the kids do know what is going on.
If your kid can’t play baseball or go to camp but you have a shiny new truck– there is something wrong with YOU.
If you use child support payments as an excuse to verbally abuse the other parent of your children, there is something wrong, with YOU.
If you use money in any way to harm someone caring for your children, there is something wrong, WITH YOU.
We cannot legislate good parenting, but we CAN enforce court orders in America. Especially for something as important as child support.
It is a national outrage that our government is paying the states to NOT enforce court orders intended to benefit and protect our children, with state workers also participating in the verbal abuse to parents who just want justice for our children. Most states order a “parenting class” in divorce proceedings, and it should be mandated that these issues of finances and financial abuse are addressed in detail in these classes. Trained psychologists can pick out the high-risk cases and provide extra support as needed to ensure the children are taken care of. You might be affecting your ex-spouse by refusing to pay, but you are affecting your children most of all.
I am asking you to contact your state senators and congressmen and voice your concerns over this issue. The arrears in child support nationwide is now over $115 Billion dollars. This is a completely unacceptable situation in our Great Nation.
Arrears by state can be found here.
Together we can end this cycle of abuse and poverty.
Our kids are watching.