Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sounding Off on Child Support

I wrote this letter to the editor in response to this story on WBUR, Boston's NPR station.

To Whom it May Concern,

I just listened to Monica Brady-Myerov's story about non-custodial dad's struggling to pay child support after losing a job. Actually, that wasn't how the story was described in Bob Oakes' intro. I thought that the story would be a balanced look at how the ailing economy is affecting both custodial parents who receive child support and non-custodial parents who pay child support. The interviews, however, included one non-custodial dad, one spokesperson for a dad's advocacy group, and a spokesperson for the family court system. There were no comments from custodial parents who rely on child support to cover just a fraction of the extraordinary cost of raising children.

Ms. Myerov mentioned that ONE custodial mother (the ex-wife of the dad interviewed) and her attorney did not choose to comment but what about all the other custodial moms AND dads out there who are struggling? Surely, she could have searched a little harder for at least one person to talk about how they've been affected by the loss or impending loss of child support.

I am such a person. I have a job. I consider myself incredibly fortunate in this economy to have a steady paycheck. But that security does not allow me to breathe a sigh of relief. I don't only have to worry about MY ability to earn a steady paycheck. I also have to worry about my ex-husband, who pays $984.66 per month in child support. And, when he lost his job two weeks ago and told me he would TRY to continue to pay child support, I started sweating.

The money he pays is supposed to cover half the cost of raising my 2 children, ages 5 and 9. I have rent, groceries, utilities, health insurance, medical and prescription co-pays, clothing, child care, and numerous other expenses. My full-time job gives me a living wage in the mid 5 digits, but I am, by no means, rolling in the dough. I would never insult the truly indigent and suffering by describing myself as poor. I get by but I don't live large and I have nothing extra at the end of the month.

Years before my ex-husband lost his job, I wanted to file for a support modification since the children's expenses and my ex-husband's income and expenses have changed dramatically in the 4 years since the original support order. (The kids are getting older, camp and child care is getting more expensive and my ex-husband received several raises and moved in with someone who owns her own home since our divorce.)

So, why didn't I file for that modification? My ex-husband has a friend who is an attorney advising him, I'm assuming for free, and the courts have not served me well in the past when I've tried to represent myself. I've allowed that fear to keep me from asking for a more appropriate amount of child support. My bad.

But now I'm really scared. With advocacy groups representing the interesting of poor non-custodial dads like the one Ms. Myerov profiled in her story, I know that I have to have protection before facing the courts. This is why I have opted to use my tax return check to hire a reduced-fee, legal representative who may or may not have the experience or time to advise me. I planned to use that money to pay for summer camp but now I will have to use my credit card to leave a deposit and hope that I still have support coming when the balance is due.

I am neither a victim nor a villain, nor are the male friends I have who are also custodial parents.I have a sustaining faith in the universe that I will be OK no matter what. But that faith wavers at times like these. Custodial parents cannot call and say, "Sorry, ex, I can't see the kids tonight." Nor, can we suggest that the after-school program contact our ex-spouse to collect an overdue payment. We are responsible for being the primary caretakers of our children and making sure that they have everything they need to support their growth. This is a truly awesome responsibility. It is a responsibility I willingly take but I don't think I should have to be vilified for not wanting to bear the financial burden alone when their father is in the picture.

Ms. Myerov's imbalanced report did nothing to educate or inform. It only added to the existing bias that non-custodial dads are victims of the merciless and greedy ex-wives trying to milk them out of everything they are worth.

Next time, I hope you try a little harder to tell the entire story.

Julie Baker


  1. Fantastic letter Julie!
    My child's father is over $4K in arrears and the number is getting bigger every week. The bills keep coming and does he even make a little effort? Nope.
    Thank you for speaking for me!
    :) mb

  2. So, the power of the pen (or the keyboard)is, once more, in evidence. I received the following email from Monica Brady-Myerov after sending my Letter to the Editor:


    Thank you for your comments on my story. I’m sorry you feel it was unbalanced. I did not intend for it to sound unbalanced. I did note in the story that custodial parents are also seeking child support modifications at this time because of the economy, but I learned in my reporting more non-custodial parents are going to court so the story focused more on that area. That said, it’s possible I will do another version of the story for national air and may be able to include your perspective, should you want to share it with me on tape. Would you considering doing that? I would come to you for the interview and it would take about 20 minutes. Please let me know, and thank you again for your comments.

    Monica Brady-Myerov

    And I responded:

    Thanks very much for responding to my email. Please feel free to call me if you decide to provide a more balanced perspective including comments from custodial parents in a future story. I would definitely be willing to be interviewed on tape.
    Julie Baker

    I love when I am heard.

  3. Great letter and yes, what power to create change! Still astonished that courts or a father could believe that half the cost of raising two children of any age, in any economy, would add up to $980 and some. If only! I would be living plenty large if that were true LOL!
    Keep fighting the good fight.