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.