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A Look At Child Support

A Look At Child Support image
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(EDITOR'S NOTE: The qucstion of jchild support in divorce cases is a heated lissue, obscured by the emotions of parlents who have gone through the strains lof divorce proceedings. Today begins a Ifive-part probé into the situation in IWashtenaw County.) By Jan Stucker (News Staff Reporter) Court-ordered child support for the youngsters of divorce. Is it a basically good system which has been hampered by the steadily rising number of divorces and the consequent paperwork and enforcement problems? Or is it a totally inadequate system which is feebly enforced and which "consigns women and children to the poverty level" of existence? The News has found that how this question was answered often depended on one's sex. Most, though not all, of the men queried about the effectiveness of the system of court-ordered child support - including judges, attorneys and Friend of the Court officials - tended to believe the system is basically a decent one which has been overloaded by the sheer number of cases. "Generally, I think it's a good system," says Ralph Keyes, president of the Washtenaw County Bar Association. I "If occasionally a support order is not I enforced, it's not the fault of the system Ibut is because of a lack of manpower. I It's a numbers problem." Not so, says a New York divorce lawyer named Diana D. DuBroff. "Monetary I divorce awards, along with small claims I judgments, are probably the least comIplied with and the least enforced crimiInal or civil orders," she says. A number of fecal women interviewea by The News agree. It's a system "designed to keep divorced mothers poor, punished, scared, guilty, worried and weak," according to a spokeswoman for the local Women's Committee for Divorce Information and Children's Rights. "It is also designed to allow divorced fathers to inadequately support their children ... ." she charges. (Changes in Michigan's divorce laws on Aug. 3, 1970, now provide that both the father and mother are equally liable to pay alimony, child support and attorney fees. Under the new law, some women have been ordered to pay, but the father still is ordered to pay in most cases.) The women interviewed by The News included lawyers plus single, married and divorced women who have studied or lived with the problems of child support. Their complaints include charges that the amount of child support ordered by the court is, in most cases, "excessively meager"; that increases are extremely difficult to obtain ; that hikes in the amount because of inflation and increased children's expenses are nonexistent; and that enforcement of the orders is half-hearted, at best, and sadly lacking, at worst. "Basically, you must depend on the whims of the father who might be using the situation to get back at the mother, who 's trying to be ugly," one divorced mother of four children says. She continúes: "In cases where the father is dedicated to the kids and wants to do right by them, the system works. Otherwise, you can forget it." Everyone seems to agree that the isWÊÊÊÊÊSÊÊÊÊm sue of child support is a knotty problem. I "If there was a simple answer, someone I would have thought of it," offers Rich-B ard Benedek, Washtenaw County's Friend I of the Court. The office of the Friend of I the Court, which is bitterly criticized as I ineffective and inefficiënt by many local I women, is the arm of the Circuit Court I which investigates and makes 1 mendations as to custody, visitation I rights and the amount of child support I and alimony. "Child support problems exist 1 to-coast, and we're trying to make 1 provements," Benedek says. "But no I one's come up with anything extremely I dramatic." According to 1970 figures, which I dek says are the latest available ones, I an estimated 10,000 children are I ent on the Friend of the Court in I tenaw County for the collection and I bursement of child support payments. With the jump in the number of I tenaw County divorces in the past two I years (886 were granted in 1970 and 976 I were granted in 1971; 613 petitions for I divorce were filed in the first five I months of 1971, and 745 petitions during I those same months of 1972), the number of children under the Friend of the I Court's jurisdiction has surely risen I preciably. In the next four articles, The News will - investigate the much maligned I system of court-ordered child support and will present the diverse views of I women, men, lawyers, judges and a I eral government commission. (Tomorrow: How Much Enforcement I of Child Support Orders?)