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Making 'deadbeat' parents a thing of the past

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Ronald Isaacs, an attorney and founder of Fathers' Rights Foundation in Baton Rouge, La., calls this lack of accountability an oddity in the law. In all other cases where people serve as a guardian over someone's money, he notes, they must file an annual report with the court showing how they spent the money.

State child-support agencies cause other problems. Mathematical errors or computer glitches can ring up incorrect amounts on bills. These mistakes can be hard to get corrected, family experts say.

Other conscientious parents fall seriously behind in child support when they lose their job. Although unemployment makes them eligible for lower payments, bureaucracy often produces delays. The money they owe mounts quickly. States also add interest and sometimes penalties.

"We need to make it easier for fathers who lose their jobs or become disabled or ill to get reductions," says Dianna Thompson, executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers and Families. The same is true for noncustodial mothers.

Roundups also ignore the problems welfare mothers face. If a father pays child support, most of it goes to the state, not the mother, to offset the benefits she receives – housing, welfare, food stamps.

Isaacs offers an example: If a father is paying $200 a month in child support, only about $50 might go to the mother. "There's no incentive for these low-income people to pay child support. They're better off just paying the mother."

Mr. Leving and others argue that child-support problems will not be solved by suspending driver's and professional licenses, intercepting income tax refunds, seizing assets, booting cars, and taking away hunting and fishing licenses.

Nor will roundups and high-profile arrests trumpeted on page 1 ultimately make a big difference.

What will help? Some solutions lie within the family.

Government studies show that involved parents with joint custody pay support more than 90 percent of the time. If they don't have visitation, it falls to less than 50 percent.

"The best way in the world to collect support is to keep the father involved with the child," Isaacs says.

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