Deadbeat Dad-- erl's IRL case

Ok dopers, I just got off the phone with my mother. She wants to go after my father for back child support (he has never paid, to my knowledge, one red cent).

Father left when I was too young to even remember him. The young young age of somewhere between ½ years old and 1½ years old. He lived on the streets for some time, living with friends and being generally jobless. Then he basically disappeared.

My mother then raised me for the next 16 or so years of my life. During that time (she tells me) she had tried to look for him and failed, then eventually gave up.

When I was just about to turn 18 she asked me if i wanted to go after him for all the back child support he owed. It certainly would have helped me for college, she could have some to pay down debt she had accumulated during the single mom years, and things would have been nicer off. She knew where he was, and knew he was doing OK. She basically left the decision up to me.

So I decided to talk to him—to meet my father for the first time and try and decide whether I wanted to tell my mom “Yes, let’s go get his money.”

I decided against that conclusion. He was doing ok for himself. He had a job—I think he actually owned his own business—he was remarried and he had a daughter. The daughter has MS, and so did his wife; but still, they were doing ok for themselves.

I asked myself: what is the point of child support? I answered, to help the now single parent raise the child. My mother did that. She worked sometimes multiple jobs. We moved a bit. But, in the end, there I was, almost 18 and I was ok. She was ok; a little in debt, but ok. So, child was raised.

I then asked myself, if the conditions that child support was supposed to cover were met, what then would be the reason to go after him? I came to this answer: none.

I liked my father, in the few conversations I had with him. We had a lot in common, actually. We both liked computers, we both liked video games. Hell, I only talked to him four times but he was an OK for all that. Objectively I had no problem with him.

So, he was interested in the fact that I wrote poetry and some short stories. I packaged up an envelope with some peoms I thought were representative of who I was at the time, and what I had gone through, a story or two, and a single letter outlining the reason I pursued a conversation with him in the first place. I informed him that I didn’t feel that I should go after him for child support, and that my mother had left the decision in my hands. I informed him that though biologically he was my father, we had no ties throughout my life, and though I did find him to be a very nice man now I had no intentions of keeping in communication.

We never spoke again.

The situation
More years have passed. I am now 25½ and in some pretty serious debt, but working through it. I have a good job now, I like the area I live in. My mother is pretty much out of debt now and attending college to get the art degree she had always wanted. We are still doing ok; could be better, but there you have it.

In my mind, I told her, I still have a hard time seeing that I she should pursue him for back child support. She feels that he owed it to us, and that doesn’t change over time. We could both use the money which may amount to about $20K. It would get me out of credit card debt and allow me to get back on track to having a social life of some kind and investing for my future (of which only $125 of my monthly salary goes now, and I can barely afford that—just started saving even that this month). She could graduate faster and get into the job market while she is still considered even a valuable member of the job market.

so she still feels that the condintions of child support have not been met, and in fact cannot be met until he actually pays up.

And he does, as far as anyone knows, have the money. He’d have to sell his house and get a cheaper one (ooo, 200K house to a 180K house, for example) but seemingly it would not seriously affect his way of life. It might even get a monkey off his back.

AFAIK there is no statute of limitations on child support.

We ended the conversation a little bit ago on the grounds that we would both think about it for another week and get back to each other. I wanted to bring it here.

The questions
[list=1][li]Is there any legal reason, from what little information I gave above, that we couldn’t get the money?[]Can someone present an argument for either my side or my mom’s side to help me get a better grasp on the situation?[]In the general case, if the child is raised, should the parent still hold an obligation for back child support?[/list=1][/li]
Thanks. Right now, let me be clare that I am extremely ambivalent. I do want the money, but remain unsure about the motivation to get the money. I am willing to accept either side should a clearer argument present itself.

  1. Probably depends on the state. You can probably research this yourself by looking at your state’s statutes on

  2. Hey, that’s your decision.

  3. Yes. Actually, make that hell yes. Your dad pissed off on a binding debt to you. The law should not reward debtors for their refusal to pay their debts.

Also . . . $20,000? That seems way, way low for 16 years of non-payment.

erislover wrote:

An important piece of basic investment advice:

If you have any credit card debt at all, pay it off first before you even think of putting money away in a different investment vehicle.

No savings account, money market fund, C.D., mutual fund, real estate holdings, or any other kind of investment will have an average rate of return anywhere near as high as the interest rate on your credit cards. If your credit cards charge 14% interest, then by using your extra money to pay down your credit card debt, you are effectively making a guaranteed 14% investment.

Well, sometimes you can get credit card debt at very low interest…if you are careful. My wife found a credit card that only charged 7% interest…as low as a bank loan. But yes, in general paying your credit card off at once is the best bet. Unless you have a sure-bet investment paying better than 18%…

RE: Investment
I want to get a 5% downpayment on a house in five years. I can do that and still work to somewhat aggressively pay down my debt. Having real property at my disposal in five years is far more valuable to me personally. :slight_smile:

minty, look slike you agree with my mom. She’s sorta looking at it as a contrac: by becoming a father you agree to help raise a child. He failed to do that; thus, he still owes.

Fair enough.

I think you should go after the back payment.


I would continue paying off the debt, learning to live on a budget and save for that house of yours.
If you do take him to court and you do win does not mean that he will pay all or any of it. Look at his past record of support. There you go.

You may have to garnish his wages and, from what I know of that (which is nothing), you (and your mom) will get little checks every month from the POWERS THAT BE that cover this department.


Don’t expect a big ass whopping check to come in all at once in the near (1-3 year future)to help wipe out all yours and your mom’s bills and put you on smooth sailing.


That probably will not happen.

You win the lottery. (Which I sincerely hope you do.)
BTW, you’re mom sounds like an incredible lady!

I’m a bit disturbed by the lack of statute of limitations. It seems wrong to me that someone can just come along anytime they want and say “pay up”. It almost seems like your mother is looking as this as a bank account, to be withdrawn from when she needs the money. It seems to me that she should have either gone after him when she first found him, or not at all.

Close. You’re missing the bit where a court entered a child support obligation on your behalf against your father. Without that judgment, there is no legal obligation. Presumably, such a judgment exists in your case?

Incidentally, your mom has no personal claims on that back child support. Child support is for the benefit of the child, not the custodial parent. In fact, if you recover the debt and your mom spends that money on yourself, your dad might be able to sue for an accounting.

Uh, that should be " . . . and your mom spends that money on herself** . . . "

I believe eris’ mom did try at first, but the dad was such a complete total deadbeat that getting support would be like getting blood from a stone. Now that he is making money and being more responsible, why can’t she get the money that he OWES? I mean, no one is disputing that he does hold some obligation to his own offspring. And after all, if the mom was treating him like a “bank account”, she would have never consulted eris at all that first time, but would have gone after the dad anyway. Frankly, I think the mom is being damned generous. She could have been making all sorts of legal trouble for him all this time. (Which, frankly, he would have deserved.) But she hasn’t done that.

Perhaps she feels like he actually still has an obligation to his own child, and the passage of the years hasn’t changed that.

I think that it would be wrong to go for it.

This man has nothing to do with your life. You are grown now, and responsible for your life. Your mom has had a quarter of a century to get used to the finances of raiseing a child alone, and you have had just about your entire life to get used to your financial situation. Anything at this point is your own doing or undoing.

Yes, your dad had an obligation to help raise you. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. You still got raised, rather effectivly. You had a chance, on the cusp of adulthood, to take the money and run. You, rather wisely, chose to write your father emotionally and financially out of your life. You decided not to be a son to him and released him from being a father to you.

Let the poor man live his life. This doesn’t seem to be about moral obligations as much as it seems that the money would be useful right now. But, your father is a human being, not an untapped resource. Your freed him from this past long ago, and it is unfair to come knocking again as now that money is tight- especially after you told him that you had no interest in his life.

This is a very tough one to call.

First of all erislover, congratulations on keeping such a level head about all of this. An absentee parent can really imbalance things. Your mother seems to have done a good job.

That said, I believe there is a degree of hardship imposed by inadequate support that demands repayment. There’s only so many macaroni and cheese dinners that you can remember warmly before you get tired of having the stuff for dinner all the time. My own father used child support as a weapon and tapped out all of our college funds on his expensive divorce lawyers. Funny how none of his children graduated from college. I imagined he saved a tremendous amount of money that way (which he bought all sorts of valuable property with).

Your father denied your existence and that doesn’t cut it. When you father a child, that kid is your direct responsibility. Avoiding payment of support is a subtle form of child abuse as it unnecessarily restricts the child’s opportunities in life that the law currently assures through court ordered child support. Although some mitigation might be found for extensive periods of unemployment or disability, there is an overarching obligation for a parent to provide that support.

There is also nothing wrong with seeking that support after the fact. That you seemed to have previously dismissed him from your life does complicate the matter. If you, by your own spoken or written word released him from that debt, then you need to consider why you are willing to reneg on that agreement. Only you can be the judge of how deserving you are of it and how deserving your father is of having to pay it (except for a court of law, maybe). Shirley Ujest and even sven both make cogent observations here as well.

I wish you success in whatever road you choose.

Well, no. As far as we ever knew we wouldn’t be able to get the money from him because he didn’t have any. Thus, while he owed us (and yes minty we have the court verdict) there was no way we could expect him to cover his obligation.

Her opinion is now that he has the money, and in fact even back when he did have the money, he should have done like he was supposed to and payed up.

That simply would not have accomplished anything.

Well, honestly Zenster, I don’t think the letter I wrote him would have any legal precidence even if he did present it in court. I was a minor and certainly, with my mother as my legal guardian, wouldn’t be able to legally make that decision. At least as far as I can tell. But the last information anyone had on him paying the back support wouldn’t seemingly change his way of life in any significant way.

sven and I seem to be in agreement here, though.

It’s your choice, and only you know how you feel about this. But I have to agree with Zenster on this one. This man does have an obligation, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong (ANYTHING) with asking for him to at least fulfill a fraction of it. I think it might even do his soul some good to finally “make good”, at least a little bit. I mean, what kind of self-respecting man just cuts and leaves on his own kid? He owes his own self respect this, I think. He ought to make this right. So perhaps you ought to push him a little, and prod him into doing the right thing. (And it is the RIGHT thing, dammit!)

I don’t want to trash your dad, I haven’t met him, and I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy on a lot of levels. And this is your call. But I think your mom has a point. A huge point. And, after all, she made some huge sacrifices and took on a lot of responsibility raising you on her own. I cannot begrudge her the desire to finally get your dad to pay up. I think it is totally justifiable and understandable.


Your post touched me - it was heartfelt and honest. And I can sincerely empathize with your situation - I too was the child of a “dead-beat” dad.

I don’t know anything about the law in your state, but I do know this - money will not fill the void of a missing father. Perhaps this isn’t about the cash at all - perhaps it is about anger you and your mother justifiably feel towards your biological father. I won’t presume to know you or the issues you’re facing, but I can say whatever you do, if you it makes you feel better, then do it. Don’t let anyone (even Mom) decide what makes YOU feel good. This is, IMHO, the most important thing - healing yourself.

I send you my most sincere thoughts and prayers.


As far as I know, there is no statute of limitations on child support obligations. And you can’t get out of them by filing bankruptcy. Child support is extraordinarily special within the law. Whether this is fair or not is a judgment call.

BTW, minty, in some states the custodial parent is in fact entitled to a claim for back child support while the child is a minor. In these states, the custodial parent is presumed to have made up the difference out of his or her own resources and is therefore the party financially harmed by nonsupport, not the minor. A child in those states may only recover directly for nonsupport in the period between majority and the cessation of the support obligation (normally, the 21st birthday). This is also why in those states the CP may compromise a claim for back child support (but not present or future child support) without the approval of the court.

If the CP was not able to provide support, as evidenced by receiving public assistance, then the state may recover against the nonsupporting parent as the financially harmed party.

erislover wrote:

Couldn’t you instead pay down your credit card debt over the next five years, and then take a huge cash advance on one of your paid-off credit cards to make the down payment with? (The advantage of this strategy over putting a savings aside over the next 5 years is that you’ll accrue less debt interest in the mean time.)

I don’t understand this reasoning. Child support is a monetary obligation, not a penalty. I am not aware of statutes of limitation being applied to monetary obligations.

Unless you were assuming that there was no court judgement at the time, but erl has clarified that there was one.

Sheesh, guys. :slight_smile: I do pay money to my credit cards. More than double what I am saving, actually. And any extra money I make due to raises and bonuses will indeed go toward paying off my debt faster.

And tracer, though it would work to do that, it would be far better to my emotional state to get out of credit card debt and stay out of credit card debt. I have no small amount of anxiety in my life because of the past I had to live to get where I am today and getting that monkey off my back is certianly priority one.

I have three credit cards, two with over $3.5K and one at about $2K on them. :eek:

Also, please realize that part of the money I invest will be semi-liquid. Right now if there was an emergency situation I’d be fucked. If all I did was pay down the cards and an emergency came up I’d be fucked and simply be back to square one. if I save and pay down the cards and an emergency comes up I lost the savings but stay where I am as far as debt goes—a win-win situation if you ask me.

Not saving for a house is simply not an option to me. I am very tired of renting. If I don’t buy a house by the time I’m 30-32 I’ll never pay it off by retirement (it seems). Time to get cracking.

Izzy and others of that commentary ilk:
I suppose where I differ on that is that the obligation is to help raise a child. That task is completed. Why would the monetary obligation remain?

Perhaps I just feel bad. I am, by nature, a very selfish person, but I think that empathy guides a lot of my life where reason alone cannot suffice. And the way I see it, going after him now would be taking money away from his wife and daughter, not just him.

Now, my mom said that the wife, at least, is guilty of the sin of omission; she knows his situation and implicitly supported him in it. I dunno. I am not big on vengence for the sake of vengence, and this is what the situation feels like to me.

Let it be said that should we get the money, regardless of whose money it is supposed to be, my mom and I would split it down the middle.

I do have another question here, though… if the judgement is rendered on him for failure to pay one red cent, are we still only going to see monthly payments from him? I know that in some civil litigation the ruling is such that the plaintiff receives a lump-sum from a clearing house of sorts, and the defendant then pays the clearing house in whatever means possible (with interest, of course, if they are monthly payments). At least, I think this happens… I have been known to dream shit up sometimes, thinking I read it somewhere. As Captain Kirk would say, must be all the LDS I did back in the 60’s. :smiley:

Thanks everyone for the continued replies, but it isn’t as debatelike as I thought it would be. Guess the verdict is really: he should pay it, period. Perhaps I am just waffling because of my emotional involvement in it, because I would bet that were I to read about this from another poster I’d be taking the side that my mother is currently espousing. :shrug: Damn relativism. :wink: