Breaking the Cycle of Defeat for 'Deadbroke' Noncustodial Parents Through Advocacy on Child Support Issues
The child support system is not serving low-income families well. Custodial parents are not receiving the child support they need. Enforcement of child support for lowincome parents receiving welfare primarily benefits the state because the payments are owed to the government. Low-income noncustodial parents face unrealistically high child support orders and large arrearages take so much of their wages that they cannot support themselves. They go to jail-often recurrently-because they cannot meet their obligations and thereby lose the opportunity to keep a job. Their driver's licenses are suspended because they have not paid their support. To evade this punitive cycle, they seek "below-ground" employment, avoiding garnishment, but increasing their own financial uncertainty and the potential for exploitation by unscrupulous employers and providing even less support to their families. Fathers, mothers, and children are caught in a vicious cycle where the goal of providing for families and children is thwarted by child support policies and practices that boomerang when applied to low-income people. In 2000, the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau launched a project to tackle barriers to employment and economic stability caused by unmanageable child support problems of noncustodial parents. The initial reaction to the idea of representing dads who were not paying child support was greeted with alarm. Tenacious advocates for custodial parents and children in our program feared that scarce resources would be misdirected into advocacy against Legal Aid's traditional client base-custodial single mothers struggling against daunting odds to raise their children. However, those fears quickly subsided as project advocates developed successful strategies to address barriers to sustained employment and economic stability caused by child support problems and policies. This article highlights recurrent legal issues that clients encountered and the project's advocacy responses. The article seeks to demonstrate why representing "deadbroke" noncustodial parents is important antipoverty advocacy that benefits fathers, mothers, children, and their communities.
Breaking the Cycle of Defeat for 'Deadbroke' Noncustodial Parents Through Advocacy on Child Support Issues, 37 Clearinghouse Rev. 5 (May-June 2003) (co-author)