Cherie Miller On Deadbeat Dads, their Children and the Cost to Society

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For 17 years I was married and living in a beautiful home in Wheaton, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. I was a stay-at-home mom, choosing to raise my three sons, rather than delegating that to a sitter or child care center.

I had been successful in constructing an almost perfect life.

That’s why it was so devastating when my executive level husband lost his job. His company, a trade association of the savings and loan industry, was a victim of deregulation. His offices, in downtown Chicago dwindled from a bustling 150 people down to 30. He was one of the last people out the door.

He’d been employed there for 10 years. Losing that job caused something inside him to just snap. From the last day he turned off his lights and said goodbye to his long-term office, he quit looking for work. For almost three years I supported the family with day care income earned by taking care of other people’s kids, but it soon became apparent to me that he wasn’t ever going to work again. He became depressed. Then, he became scarily psychotic.

Before too long I found myself in front of a judge filing for divorce and sole custody of my children. Devastating doesn’t even describe the depth of feelings I had as my hands shakily signed the papers for divorce from the only man I’d ever loved. Over the past year, he’d become a danger to his children, his wife, and possibly even himself.

I found a secretarial job at a nearby company, found a friend to take care of my youngest, who had just turned four and started my slow slog through life as a single mother. I’d never envisioned EVER finding myself in this situation. I wasn’t prepared:

  • I hadn’t worked in 10 years.
  • I’d never even seen a fax machine, much less all of the computer-driven technology that was mandatory in every office.
  • I had no college degree since my husband had always pooh-poohed it as a waste for me.

Once the divorce was finalized, with a judgment for 33 percent “child support” based on some future salary my husband might make, he disappeared off the face of the earth. For awhile, while I still had some funds, I hired a private investigator to find him. He’d covered his tracks so well, he couldn’t be located.

I had several frustrating meetings with a totally overwhelmed child support collection officer. His office was so piled with manila folders of women in exactly my same situation; he had a path from the door to his desk chair. Folders tipped crazily in stacks at least three or four feet high. Needless to say, he didn’t have any more luck finding the ex than I did with my fancy private eye.

So there I was, a suddenly single, totally unprepared mom of three sons, aged 4, 10 and 12, with a below poverty wage of $25,000.

Looking back at the eight years I struggled, daily, to feed, clothe and educate my growing boys, I sometimes wonder how I managed. I had to get rid of my beautiful house — property taxes were $6,000 a year, almost a quarter of my salary — the only one my children had ever known.

A full 10 years after my divorce in 1994, Illinois voted in a new governor. One of his campaign promises was to clear up all of the old deadbeat dad cases. My ex was at the top of the list, considering he owned approximately $50,000 in unpaid child support. I’d completely written him off and forgotten him after 10 years of no contact, not even birthday cards or Christmas cards for his kids.

But the child support division had not forgotten him. And, through whatever wizardry they possessed, they found his bank account with a balance of $50,000. Imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox and found a check from the state of Illinois in the amount of $50,000. Too late, because now my boys were quasi-adults, ages 14, 20 and 22. With those funds I purchased an inexpensive home for one son, a car for another and a college fund for the third. I was sorry they had to suffer.

This past Father’s Day the Cook County, Illinois, Sherriff published a website with more than 1,100 parents who are being investigated for avoidance of child support. A recent sweep picked up 80 parents who were behind on child support payments and who are now behind bars.

These types of actions are needed, because according to the U.S. Census Bureau only 47.3 percent of all custodial mothers received ALL of the child support the courts required. Seventy-seven and a half percent received SOME. And the rest, like me, received none.

Since Bill Clinton’s presidency, new laws have been put on the books that will help single moms that find themselves in the same tight spot I was in. The National Deadbeat Dad List was created to track nonpaying parents from state to state. In 1992, the Child Support Recovery Act and in 1998, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, was passed which criminalized non support of biological children.

Let’s hope that the next generation of children that grow up in single parent households have all of the financial support they need to grow into productive members of society. If they don’t, it’s society that foots the bill.



7 thoughts on “Cherie Miller On Deadbeat Dads, their Children and the Cost to Society

  1. Oh yea, one more thing,i read and know the Bradley amendment,that was created by our nj senator and backed and approved by the clintons.Well,they may have made some spiteful women happy, but this amendment does not supercede my childrens and my constitutional rights.Our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness was ripped away.I am currently fighting to help abolish this terrible law,along with father’s rights groups.

  2. hello cherie,
    first let me say i’m sorry for your suffering and hardships.unfortunately, this subject is a double edged sword.i am the second wife,and i went into my marriage knowing that my husband had a child support obligation to his first 2 kids.i agree with child support, to a degree.everybody has a different situation, with always a third party involved.For me,it has been the opposite of your situation.My husband’s first wife used every opportunity and took full advantage of the child support laws.She totally brainwashed her sons against him and used them as personal pawns for her spite!!!!she lied several times to the courts,and through the years collected over $150,000 in support,but oh no that was not enough money and they called him a dead beat dad.thats not dead beat to me,but i will say that the family courts definately beat down this dad!!.he never had any rights enforced.She managed to cleverly use the system to stop him from seeing his sons,and also to receive payment.This to me is disgusting!!!not all men are rich,sorry!!for 25 years my 4 children with him have suffered tremendously, so that the first 2 could have steak, and mykids eat bologna.My husband did not run,and he tried endlessly, to try and see his sons, but it was too late.If he was even 2 weeks behind,she would call the cops and have them waiting at her house for him, and take her sons out for awhile.My husband, unsuspecting, would be thinking he was going to pick up his sons, and was tricked and sent to jail.In the meantime i would be left abandoned with no job or money with 4 little ones to take care about scarey!!!after 25 years,myhusband still has what they say are arrearages.I beg to differ.i know exactlyhow the courts work at this point,the courts did not give a damn about any of the children.Its a lie.If they truly wanted to do the right thing for the children,they would have made sure a father son bond was kept.And they would have calculated mychildren into the child support formula.Over the years, i have heard horror stories from both sides,and i know their are women who purposely have children to insure an income for the next 18 years for themselves.My husband was heartbroken over this which put tremendous stress on our marriage and caused problems for my children.In order for this to work, it must be fair for all the children involved, not just the first children.I had every right as did my husband, to start a new happy life after his divorce, after all isn’t that what divorce is for?i do not believe for one minute, that all mothers do the right thing with the money their ex husbands give them, and when there are hard times, why should the first children still live high on the hog, and my kids starve? If my husbands sons were living with us, and lets say myhusband lost his job,they would have to eat bologna too right?No its not right.Now at this point in my life,my children are older and stronger from this experience, but they will never forget the times they had to see their dad handcuffed and jailed for a debt he owed.Sorry, i disagree,if any woman doesn’t move on in her life and just decides to make a career out of scorn,and uses her sons for that purpose, then she should be jailed for child abuse.Oh i would love to see that!!!! maybe someday!!!

  3. C.rain-

    Thank you for your comment. As you can imagine, even though I did get a child support payment, it was too little, too late. I believe that the child support collection departments are overwhelmed by the volume of cases they need to follow-up on and more funding needs to go into the collection agency part of the equation. Maybe if governments turn it over to the private sector the children wouldn’t have to grow up without support, except that of a single parent. And we’d all be better off, don’t you think?

    • I thought you bought one of your children a house with part of the money and a car for another children? It seems like the state did an ok job for you. There is a growing trend to privatitize many functions that state employees now perform. I do not work for the State of Il; however, I do work for another state at a child support agency. We have faced many budget cuts and I am sure that the Il agency has had to deal with many budget cuts. I don’t know about Il, but I do not think you could not get a private agency to preform the work we do at for the cost our state is now paying. 3/4 of our budget is paid by the federal government. In the states that have tried private collection services, I don’t believe that their collection rates are any higher that the states operating the programs themselves. The child support program is a very complex program that takes years to learn. The federal government changes policies for the program frequently. I do agree that more funding would help, but in this economy, assistance programs are at the bottom of the list for funding.

  4. I would think you would at least be somewhat appreciative of the State of Il child support office. Even though you received no child support for a long time, at least you did receive what you were owed. Oh, I know, what you were owed was not nearly enough to take care of your children, etc. This article should serve as a lesson to all young mothers. Heaven forbid that they suddenly have to support themselves and their children. All mothers, need to be prepared to provide for themselves and their children (continuing their education, etc).