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Growing Numbers of Parents Ask Courts to Reduce Child-Support


Megan K. Scott of the Associated Press shares the story of David Vandenberg, who owns a prosperous acupuncture clinic in a white-collar suburb of Washington D.C. Vandenberg owed a $433 child support payment, an amount which gave him no trouble - until 2008.

Vandenberg’s business began to sputter, and he filed for unemployment protection. At age 50, he was unable to find a new job, and Vandenberg moved back home to Arkansas to live with his parents, who also graciously offered to make his child support payments.

"I didn't have any recourse," Vandenberg says.

He tried (unsuccessfully) to have a court reduce his monthly payments. After making his child support payment, he receives just $100 a month from unemployment.

Statistics show that men have been affected more by the economic downturn. 9.8% of men are unemployed, versus 7.5% of women, and men make up most noncustodial parents. As a result, a growing number of unemployed dads find themselves responsible for child support payments based on incomes they no longer have.

A survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that this year, 39% of participants saw an increase in modifications being made to child support payments, and another 42% witnessed a rise in the number of changes made to divorce cases regarding modifications of alimony.

Glenn Sacks, executive director of Fathers & Families, an organization that advocates for family court reform, says he sees it every day.

"You have all these guys losing their jobs, having to take lower paying jobs or part-time work and they are flooding the courts to get downward modifications. The courts have improved to a degree, but they move much too slowly."

The custodial parents involved in these cases also feel the pinch. Delaine Moore is a separated stay-at-home mom of three in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her husband had worked on an oil field and paid $6,500 a month until this March, when he lost his job. His payments dwindled down to nothing. Moore says there are fewer movie trips and visits to restaurants as she adjusts to the loss of that income.

"I think my children are still feeling very loved and most importantly I'm here for them, [But] I don't know what's going to happen."

Patricia Macias, a family court judge in El Paso, Texas, says she evaluates a parent's situation carefully before deciding on a child support reduction.

  • Are they unemployed or underemployed by choice?
  • Are they actively seeking a new job?
  • Do they have non-essential assets that should be sold to make payments possible?

"I believe that family court judges as a general rule are very empathetic to the economic situation," Macias says. "But our primary focus is what the kids need. So that it's not good enough to say, 'Judge, you understand. We're in hard economic times.'"

Some have found that the economy is a great incentive to work these sort of reductions out between the two parents, though the court still needs to have the court order updated. Flexibility and good-faith efforts will benefit everyone in the long run, even the children, who benefit from stable relationships between parents more than they do trips to the movies.

Source: The Associated Press

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