Father’s Day has passed, but I’m not done with my rants. I hope to shed some light on fathering, especially as a divorcee, in my own experience. I hope to give men like myself a voice, at least. I hope my message reaches someone and effects some kind of shift in mindset. Please read with an open mind and keep the comments on the upside.
You Will Be Punished
I can only deal with my child support case in short doses. It crushes my nerves, and I need you, my dear readers, to understand what I’m digging through. In my earlier post on paying child support, I explained my immediately difficult introduction to the system. I went to court with all my documents. I explained that my only means were student funds and it was unfair to expect me to pay support calculated at minimum wage income when my actual income was about negative $20k per year. Even though I was living on student funds, my child support remained the same because I was expected to be making at least minimum wage.
I moved into the cheapest place I could find to pare my expenses down. I also continued to pay my child support now a full two weeks advance with student loans…and the sale of my truck. Being my super senior year, there were fewer and fewer classes left for me to take. I started an 18 month temp position in late June and got my first paycheck just in time to avoid getting kicked out of my shoebox.
I was also handed a motion to show cause challenging me for parenting time and more child support right as I dropped my son off on Father’s Day. Not that it was deliberate, but the order had been signed off over two weeks prior to my getting it, leaving me almost no time to respond to all the glaringly false allegations.
I watched my paychecks for the deductions to start and for 3 more months I continued to cut checks two weeks ahead of time. Finally, payments were established. A month later, I was hired on as a regular, and a month after that, payments were reestablished through the company’s payroll.
I went to court in November, defended myself against “The Most Aggressive Attorneys in Portland”, and won back half the parenting time I started with before the terms of divorce were negotiated. However, my child support payments were not recalculated to reflect my new parenting time. Odd, considering she sure requested a recalculation.
Yes, I could have filed a motion to update child support. However, I was eating failure for my senior sequence and losing traction on my career in a dead end company. With a new woman and her little girl in my life, I was mostly just happy to have time with my son and feel like a whole family again.
At the end of December, I was being threatened with legal action for being one month in arrears. I went back through my records and couldn’t figure out where the balance came from. My paycheck never missed a deduction. The following month, after phone calls failed to yield any clarification, I went in person with my case payment history printed out. It turns out that while there were consistent payments, the change from the temp agency to the company payroll left just a smidgen of a gap because technically each month’s full payment is due on the first of said month. My company pay schedule landed the payments into the system two weeks too late and it counted as a full month’s balance in arrears. I paid the regular monthly payment, which somehow made the whole problem go away (if there really was one), and carried on.
I walked away from the grave shifts and relentlessly pushed through one more term of school. My girlfriend and I got a place together and tried to get on with life. Summer came and I was stuck for work. Half my bills were getting paid with my credit card, the other half weren’t. Child support was in the not paid category. I searched for work. I got swindled by a craigslist gig. I searched some more. Letters from the district attorney came every few weeks, increasingly threatening with each month I couldn’t pay.
Four months of searching, the longest stretch I have ever suffered, finally got me employed. I interviewed in August and started at the end of the month. It took only one pay period before I received the withholding order, and the very next paycheck was deducted. At the end of September, I got a call from a private number claiming to be the child support enforcement office and they ask me for my employer’s information. I refuse to give it because only a few weeks earlier that exact office mailed the order to my employer and the proper amount was held from my check. Shouldn’t I think that’s suspicious? Being asked for information that the institution they claim to be definitely already has? A week later, I get another copy of the withholding order. I also get a letter from the district attorney asking again for my employer’s information, that is, the information they just used a second time to establish payments. I call my payroll to see what the deal is, and they tell me that it has been received and is in process. Just like direct deposit, these things take a couple pay cycles to get established, three bi-monthly in this case. By the fourth pay cycle, it was all on track.
I was happy to have the heat off with child support via automatic payroll deductions. Extra was taken out to pay the arrears which had built up to 4 figures in only as many months. Then, I get notices in the mail telling me my state and federal tax returns are also going to be used to settle the difference. By this point, I feel I have every right to be pissed off at the system. It wasn’t enough to take away from my paycheck even though I was living one to the next, they came after my tax returns, too!
I got my tax documents. I filed in February, then waited. At the end of April, I finally got word on my returns. My girlfriend’s tax return was already fully spent by April, and I was told that there’s a few hundred left of mine for me to enjoy. I didn’t actually get the money in April, just notified of the status. So, while the extra funds for arrears continued to be taken from my pay, my federal return was reduced by the amount owed. I mean, it was fine to get it squared up, but then they took my entire $425 state return on top of that!
Two weeks later in May, I finally get the first $38 of my state return mailed to me. Another week later I received a more substantial portion of my return, but $40 of it goes unaccounted for. Still another week after that (and exactly 3 days after incorrectly calculating my next month’s amount due), I received exactly the amount of my previous bimonthly payments. I wasn’t at all happy about the way it was done, but I was happy that the arrears were settled…
The very next billing cycle, I get a bill implying I was behind almost a half month.
As it turns out, the bill they calculated and sent me on May 20th incorrectly showed me owing a non-multiple of my monthly amount. That is, it wasn’t a pay cycle error. Then, on May 23rd, a check for much more than $40 was sent off. How much more? The exact same amount incorrectly shown on the bill printed three days earlier. All this immediately after both my returns were held to pay the balance in full.
Maybe it was an accounting error. Maybe it was to offset the following two months that my payroll would continue to kick in the extra 20% catch up. However, June’s bill suddenly claimed me to be over one month behind! Like I said, my payroll still forked over the full payment and then some, so what gives? I compared the total paid to date against that of the previous bill, and found they did not apply the most recent payment that the very same printout showed being made, and also coincidentally did not apply the payment that was entered into the system that same day. Oh, and only a few days later, another check for $20 sent to me would make July’s calculation seem another $20 deeper in the hole. Even though my payroll continued to deduct my salary right on schedule!
At this point, I can’t accept this as an error. This is malicious and absolutely intentional as far as I can see. Every time I call to refute a balance, I get the run around. If I mail or fax my proof, it gets somehow misplaced. I absolutely expect that after having my income taken through three channels at the same time to pay child support, I would at least get acknowledged for paying it!
By this point, I was hitting the wall. I wanted to be there for my family, and I wanted to hold onto the career I started. However, I clearly could not do both, I just couldn’t give them both the attention they needed from me.
The next month, baby’s mamma tells me that even though our son’s first day of school lands on my time, she is not going to let me have him. Now, I know “parenting time is separate from child support”, but I point this out to set the tone for parent teacher conferences.
I signed up for an open time slot. The teacher asked if the two of us would meet together, but I explained there was too much animosity. I saw that my ex took the spot immediately before mine and I should have known it was coming. I poked my head in the classroom door 5 minutes before my time, smile at the teacher and back out. As my time approached, I stood closer to the door. The ex hushed her usual boisterous voice, and being fully my time slot, I hovered near the door. For fully 10 of my 20 minutes, she bashed me to my son’s kindergarten teacher about not paying child support, once again while it was getting paid.
I quit my job, and ever since I have kept every dollar I make well out of everyone’s hands. The money I have to put on paper is kept to a bare minimum, no more than $20k per year, even though I’m pushing my earning power past $30/hr. I knew there would be repercussions, and I’ve taken each one in stride until the system put me in front of a judge because I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay even more just to hope a judge will hear my case. Again, just to be clear, I’m not railing against having to pay, I’m fighting against inequitable treatment of fathers. I’m fighting against a short sighted ‘one size fits all’ support calculation. I’m fighting against the default every other weekend for fathers. I’m fighting against routine miscalculations making way for brutally fast enforcement. I’m fighting to make parenting time as aggressively enforced as support payments. I’m fighting a gender battle calling itself a just statute!
Contempt? Hell no, I’m beyond contempt! I want a revolution!