Why is every dad a deadbeat?
by Gary Huerta
Consider this: You have an American Express card. You make your payments on time and have done so for years. You think everything’s okay. But one day, you come home from work and open a letter from AMEX saying that your payment is 15 days late. As a result, they’re going to notify every credit agency, close your account, and do a variety of things to collect what you so recklessly refused to pay.
There is no courtesy notice. No letter saying, “Hey Mr. Customer with an excellent payment history, we noticed you forgot to pay.” All you get is an overt threat to ruin your life.
That’s what it’s like being a non-custodial parent who must deal with the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). In their eyes, we’re all just deadbeats who can be shaken down for money at any time. And there’s no escape.
Why does the DCSS feel it’s their divine right and duty to treat me and every other non-custodial father like deadbeat dads? I have no idea.
I pay my child support on time, and have for several years. I’ve even been ahead on payments for long periods of time. DCSS is aware of my good payment history because it’s been automatically deducts payments from my paychecks for nearly six years. But yesterday, I received a threatening letter from DCSS informing me that I owe them $1,046.59 in back support. This equals approximately 15 days worth of support. Despite being less than one month past due, their letter threatens to: seize money or assets held by financial institutions, seize and suspend my drivers license and professional licenses, and a host of other penalties.
Yeah, I know. My problem with the DCSS isn’t very high on anyone’s list of things that are dysfunctional in government. Nevertheless, it’s a problem that plagues a lot of men who are caught in a system that classifies us as subhuman creatures with no desire to meet their obligations.
Are there a lot of men out there who fail to meet their support obligations and deserve to be called deadbeats? Yes. But there are even more who pay support in a timely manner and make every attempt to honor their financial support to their children. They don’t deserve to be treated as the scum of the earth. I fall into the latter category.
Aside from my monthly recurring bills — utilities, rent and such — I have no debt whatsoever. I don’t owe credit card companies, lenders or any individual one red cent. In my opinion, this, combined with years of consistently paying my child support obligation, gives me the right to demand some common courtesy from the DCSS. But like every other paying customer of DCSS, my opinion doesn’t mean jack shit. So I took it upon myself to dig into the matter.
Upon receiving the threatening correspondence, I immediately looked at my pay stubs to see what the issue could be. I wasn’t aware that I owed any back child support and was eager to see what the issue could be.
What I discovered was rather interesting. In August, my wages were garnished an additional $800 above and beyond the court ordered amount of support. The DCSS is not allowed to do this. They cannot, under any circumstances, take more than the court-ordered amount. This I know, because one of their representatives told me so a couple weeks ago when I called regarding a similar overpayment in the amount of $392 during the month of September.
With those overpayments in August and September, it looks as though I am ahead of my support obligation by $145.41.
When I tried calling DCSS to rectify the matter, I got a recording letting me know their system was down and they had no access to any records. If you’ve ever dealt with DCSS, you know this isn’t uncommon, and even if you do speak to a living person, they often don’t know your payment history. All they seem to know is what is due month-to-month.
For the longest time, I wondered why they’re so inept at knowing account histories and so good at knowing what they are owed. Here’s why:
DCSS is not some altruistic company serving the best interests of families. They are a for-profit organization, acting as a middleman, taking money from one party, holding onto it for awhile and then dispersing it to the other party. While they hold the money, they earn interest. To increase the amount of time they can earn interest, they disperse the money via debit cards. Any amount remaining on those cards earns them interest. Purchases made on the card likewise result in profit.
With this vested interest in collections, it’s impossible for DCSS to treat the paying parent with anything other than contempt. When they are owed, they act like gangsters using threats and scare tactics to impose their will. Why? Because money owed equals revenues lost.
Why else does DCSS feel they have the authority to threaten fathers and basically do everything but whack us in a dark alley? Because the state governments, which receives the revenue, not only condones their behavior, but is support via an apathetic court system.
With that in mind, let’s revisit the original scenario: American Express sends you that threatening letter. But instead of telling them to fuck off and canceling the card, you realize you have no choice but to endure their thuggish behavior for seven more years, without any recourse or way to end the relationship.
In the end, you can only look forward to a phone call from a representative named Guido. He’ll have a thick Sicilian accent. He won’t know what your balance is, and can only tell you to pay the money or have your legs broken.