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Divorced Mothers Air Complaints

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Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.
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■ (THIRD OF ( The news media sometimes I paint a picture of men being I discriminated against in the I nation's divorce courts. Male divorce reform groups I claim that women are favorI ed under the current system I and that divorce leaves men I bankrupt and bereft of their I children. Of course, women teil a difI ferent tale, and charge that I the divorce and child support I system are b i a s e d against I women and children, instead. Jane Hayhoe of Ann Arbor, I for example, argües that a diI vorced father usually can lose a maximum of 50 per cent of I his income to his former wife I and children through a court I order. "When he was married, nearly his entire income went I for family and household exI penses," she says. "So most I divorced men come out ahead. They have a better life style, and most pay an average of only 20 per cent of their income to their ex-wife and children, if they pay at all." How a b o u t the argument that women usually get the house, the car, and the kids? "She might get the house and car, but she usually gets the mortgage and car payirents to pay off, too," says Jane. "And if she does get custody of the children, a car is a necessity." As for the argument that most men are deprived of their children because of divorce, some local women point out that the Child Custody Act of 1970 gives both husband and wife an equal chance to receive custody of the children. Jane says that many divorced men she has interviewed for a book she is writing say they miss their children. But they add: "feét's face it. We like our freedom and our life the way it is." Another Ann Arbor mother said her ex-husband told her: "You have all the day-to-day problems. I see the kids on weekends and they're all clean and dressed and I don't have to discipline them. It's great." Specifically, women interviewed by The News have iour main complaints against the divorce system: (1) there is little enforcement of courtordered financial support, they say; (2) the amount of child support granted is usually "much too low"; (3) once the amount is set, it is "very difficult" to get it hiked'; (4) there are no provisions for inflation or increased expenses as the children get older. The low child support schedule (low from the woman's point of view) is one of the main complaints. According to Candace Snyder of the local Women's Committee for Divorce Information and Children's Rights, the current schedule (formulated in 1965) puts Washtenaw Coimty children of divorce in the 15th percentile nationally. And Washtenaw County is ranked above the 90th percentile in the cost of living. "Women should not be put in a begging situation," says a teacher who is a divorced ir.other of two children. "Even v.hen I was receiving child support payments, I couldn't make ends meet. She says she could have received nearly as much money for child support if she had elected to go on ADC (Aid to Dependent Children). Her exhusband was ordered to pay $20 weekly per child at the time of their divorce nine years ago. But she says her child support payments last year "didn't even pay for the taxes on my house. When the children were younger, it didn't even cover my babysitting costs." Since last June when she says her ex-husband stopped making payments, she says she and her children have had "no luxuries, no vacations, no new clothes. It takes every penny I have to make a home for my children." Several other divorced mothers teil similar stories. All agree their child support payments do not even cover their babysitting costs- and all find it absolutely necessary to work. "It's obvious most wome.n are not getting enough to make ends meet," says Pauline Rothnieyer, an Ann Arbor attorney who was a member of the Washtenaw County Bar Association Committee which in February presented a proposed updated schedule for child support payments. A contingent of local women then protested against the proposed h i g h e r payments schedule, saying it was still much too low. They also complained that some of the payments on the new sehedule were lower than the 1965 schedule currently f olio wed. The schedule was tabled and still hasn't been adopted, so a schedule which is seven years oíd continúes to be followed. Attorney Rothmeyer dissented f r o m the proposed new schedule, saying "in many :iL cases support would be far too low, in other cases, far too high." She believes there should be no support guidc lines and that the attorneys and Friends of the Court instead should have "Ml {reedom" to consider all factors. Friend of the Court Richard Benedek who says there was "some sentiment" among the Washtenaw County Bar that the proposed higher support schedule was "too high," says his office tries to find a "middle ground" in recommending child support payments. "The judge usually knows the father, mother and children need more money, but there are just so many dollars to go around," Benedek explains. "It's not a happy experience- the mother feels she sbouldn't have to fight for money for her children. But the father must have enough j money left to live on." Benedek claims that "t h e men love us no more than the women do, I assure you. We're right in the middle. We resist pressure from both sides." Benedek adds that the child support payments are not supposed to cover everything - that the custodial parent is expected to contribute to thé children's support. The women answer that they usually contribute substantially more dollars to the support of t h e children than the non-custodial parent. A second complaint of local women is that child support payments are extremely difficult to get increased once the original amount is set. The judge must be convinced of a "change in circumstances" of the support-paying parent before an increase ís ordcred, and the women say this is difÜü _ - - - Ann Arborite Jeanne Smith (not her real name), the divorced mother of two teenagers, says her former husband was ordered 12 years ago to pay $50 per month per child. She won an $8 a month hike per child three years after her divorce by hiring an attorney and going to court. She has received no additional increase in the past nine years, though her ex-husband earned a PhD during those years and received a substantial boost in his income. A member of the local N0W chapter has a similar story. Her husband was ordered to pay $15 per week for eaeh of their three children at the time of their divorce nine years ago, she s t a t e s. Although he is now a physician (he wasn't w h e n divorced) with a good income, she says she has been unable to get the payments raised. The third main complaint of local divorced women is that there are no automatic cost-ofliving increases included in child support orders. "There's no built-in anything," says Ann Arborite I dace Snyder. "Your expenses increase as the children get older and they need new and different things, but the money stays the same." The F r i e n d of the Court I agrees this is a common I plaint, but argües that inflation I cuts both ways. "It hits both I parties equally, because the I father's paycheck isn't worth I as much either," Benedek I says. B 7 U Jt ÖZi accent on Ao m n 1