This month is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. I want to write to tell you a few facts that many people don’t know. Most people wonder why victims struggle so much trying to leave abuse. Finances play a huge role in a person’s ability to move on from domestic abuse and truly survive and raise children. Here’s what I would like for you to know:
Only 41 percent of single mothers receive the child support they are owed! Only 41 percent according to the Pew Research Center. Judges, courts, legal system…why is this true? Please tell me we can do better than this and reform our system, fighting for people who don’t have the resources to fight for their own rights.
According to a Huffington Post 2015 article, the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the number of casualties lost during war.
Women are held captive in domestic abuse through physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse or a combination of all three.
Relating to financial abuse, Ludy Green (in her book Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom) talks about the overwhelming power of financial abuse. Part of that continues through attempting to get child support.
Here’s one woman’s documented journey through trying to get child support:
Upon the divorce, this woman was awarded custody and child support of a set amount per month for two children who both had special medical needs. Her domestic abuser (DA) was to also pay half of their medical expenses and for their dental insurance. The dental insurance never happened, so she added them on hers. Half of the medical expenses never happened. Since she was the one taking them in and signing them in for medical appointments, the doctors and medical technicians loaded all of the debt onto her since she brought them in and signed the form saying she understood they had to be paid if insurance did not cover the cost. So she took on medical debt.
The child support amount was only paid for a month or two—would have to look at her court records to be exact, but it soon stopped.
So, she had to pay a lawyer in 2005 to try to recover child support. She scraped together money and paid a large hourly fee and the court filing cost. She was awarded on paper several thousand dollars for back support, but on paper only because Circuit Court in her state does not automatically build in a way for collections. It is just assumed the defendant will pay. He didn’t even show up for court, much less pay. But technically she won quite a bit on paper. She didn’t know she had to file to request garnishment each and every time he switched jobs due to quitting or being fired. How would she have known that and why should she pay a fee to request what is legally owed for child support—to take care of children? And why should she have to track him and his jobs? You have access to his social security number—in five minutes you could track it and find him if you, as the court, chose to.
Now remember, retainer fees for lawyers can range between $2500 and $7500. Hourly fees can run between $250 and $500 per hour. Picking a cheaper attorney, however, can be costly, because if the attorney is inexperienced in handling abusers, the DA (domestic abuser) can come across as a great person to the attorney, and the attorney may go easy on the abuser or may not know how to get to the truth through the manipulation.
Through the years, she threatened to go back to court and would get small amounts paid, but never what was supposed to be paid and never on any regular schedule. She would often be forced to come pick it up. Mostly, nothing was paid. She never had the funds to pursue court action.
This woman saved up again the minimum needed to legally file, and eleven years later she is still in court. She was awarded on paper almost $100,000. Wow! But again, the Circuit Court judges in her state don’t automatically supply any means for that to actually be collected. To have wages garnished, she had to come up with lawyer fees again and court costs to file. Then, a DA can drag it out with modification requests and stalling tactics to run up the other party’s legal bill with the lawyer. The lawyer charges every time he/she has to talk to the opposing attorney or go to court or read material sent. It’s easy for a DA to run up the legal fees for the original victim of abuse, keeping them financially in debt and still not receiving child support owed. It happens daily.
A person has to pay court costs to get a contempt of court charge for failure to pay child support.
Things actually heard by women in court from the referees or judges:
“You don’t really want him to go to jail, do you?”
“Let’s wait and hear what he has to say about why he isn’t in court. Let’s just see what happens.” (But the Circuit Court Judge never forced this DA to come to court—he just never had a consequence—no warrant—no forced follow up).
“Since you are trying to file without a lawyer this time, why don’t you just make a deal with his lawyer? His lawyer is a really nice guy and a reputable member of the bar.”
Since his last contempt of court thirteen months prior, this woman’s abuser has paid zero child support. She has paid attorney and court filing fees to change that. But he asks for continuances and modifications which stall out the process and allow him to continue to deny his children access to funds that they desperately need.
What are we doing to help children get the child support they deserve? What are we doing to stop domestic abusers from continuing their financial abuse? When will we listen? When will we actively work to stop the abuse the endangers children and kills more women than our wars?
Community groups/churches/nonprofit organizations need to have funds established to help provide financial support to pay legal fees for people leaving domestic abuse and people seeking child support enforcement. There’s no excuse for child support to not be received due to an inability to pay the legal fees.
Courts need to build in an automatic enforcement clause with every child support case awarded.
Voters need to bring up these topics in the public forums and question judges about options.
Listen. Please, please, listen. Stop blaming the victims and making excuses. Listen. Hear. Make a difference.